Egg dyeing; a surfeit of candy; patent leather shoes; fancy dresses in pastel colors; white gloves, and hats decorated with straw flowers: such were the traditions of Easter during my childhood, and I loved them all.
Only one aspect of our celebrations held no appeal: the appearance of the ubiquitous Easter lily. Its image adorned greeting cards, church bulletins, and the Easter Seals we affixed to letters and bill payments, while live plants filled store aisles, appeared at the front door in the hands of well-meaning neighbors, and nearly outnumbered worshippers on Easter Sunday.
Everyone said they were beautiful. It’s true that they were pretty enough, but what others called their fragrance, I thought of as their odor. In my twelve-year-old opinion, eau de skunk would have been preferable.
I kept that opinion to myself until sixth grade, when my Methodist age-mates and I participated in the process of Confirmation: a way of acknowledging our readiness to participate in church life as adults. Most of the process has faded away, but I remember six weeks of classes, a small blue book, and plenty of memorization.
After years of memorizing muliplication tables and poetry in school, I wasn’t surprised by expectations that we’d memorize the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer. What startled me and caused no end of consternation was the expectation that I’d memorize a verse of two of scripture to recite in front of the congregation.
After a friend put dibs on “Jesus wept” — the shortest verse in the English Bible — I was at a loss. Ever helpful, my mother suggested “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.” Under normal circumstances, it would have been a fine suggestion, but I wanted nothing to do with lilies. “No,” I said. “I’m not going to memorize that verse.” Surprised by my refusal, she asked why the verse didn’t appeal. “Those flowers are awful,” I said. “They stink.”
Today, more than half a century later, I hold the same opinion. I’ve tried to overcome my aversion, but when I walk into a store packed with ‘fragrant’ Easter lilies, I’ve been known to turn and walk away.
Fortunately, my youthful conflation of Easter lilies with every other lily in the world slowly has eroded. I was surprised when I encountered the variety and beauty of daylilies, the gracefulness of water lilies, and the bold, striking form of cannas. But neither the waterlilies nor the cannas are true lilies, and the taxonomists have seen fit to move daylilies out of the Liliaceae and into the Hemerocallidaceae.
No matter. On the Texas coast, lilies abound: some native, some naturalized, and some cultivated. Whether this year’s conditions have been especially good, or whether I’m simply more adept at spotting them, lilies are appearing everywhere: elegant, ethereal, and compelling. This Traub’s rain lily, found at the edge of the prairie at Armand Bayou Nature Center, still was covered with dew.
One rainy afternoon, this Crinum lily, native to coastal Texas, was beautifully complemented by a duckweed-covered pond.
This delightful flower, also considered a rain lily because of its tendency to bloom after soaking rains, is native to Central America and Mexico, but it certainly seems to love Texas. When I found this single flower in the midst of gravel and mud, its deep, pure color was remarkable.
Not every white rain lily is a Texas native. This one, native to Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay, fooled me at first. Once the bud opens, it’s quite a large flower. Some say the flowers are one to two inches in diameter, but those I found were three inches across, and sometimes a bit more.
My favorite find — and the greatest mystery — was this gorgeous yellow lily tucked into the grass at a local nature center. It was the first I’d seen and, at the time, it was the only one I’d seen. The search for its identity was complicated. Eventually, I learned it was a Small’s rain lily: a hybrid that, along with Jones’s rain lily, is endemic to Texas.
While I can’t personally guarantee the identification, the presence of the flower in several area locations, the high level of interest in it, and the fact that several sources have offered the same opinion seems to make the accuracy of the identification more likely.
After a small colony appeared at the entrance to Armand Bayou Nature Center, someone ensured that mowers wouldn’t eliminate next season’s flowers. In the area that’s been staked off, seed pods are busy ripening. This time, they’ll have a chance.
In the meantime, more rains have brought even more rain lilies to our area. In a lot that some would call vacant, yet another species is beginning to bloom. Smaller than some, more purely white than others, these have a fragrance that Jim Conrad, a Uvalde County naturalist, describes as being “like a strong, perfumed talc trying to smell like lilac.”
Standing in the midst of the colony, inhaling a fragrance lighter and more delicate than the breezes carrying it to the world, these ephemeral lilies bring joy. Opportunities to experience their beauty are uncommon and unpredictable, but whenever those opportunities arise, I never will turn: and I never will walk away.