Zephyranthes atamasca is a diminutive bulb in the amaryllis family (Amaryllidaceae) native to the southeastern United States. It occurs in the extreme southwest corner of Virginia and then extends through the Carolinas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and northern Florida. In addition to the listed natural range, there is also a disjunct population in Maryland. The Atlas of Florida Vascular Plants lists it in peninsular Florida only in Marion and Hernando counties. However, it extends at least as far south as Hillsborough County, where I have seen it in wet-mesic forests in Hillsborough River State Park.
Plants begin active growth with the arrival of cool autumn weather and continue their growth through the winter and early spring. The first flowers may open as early as February but full flowering occurs in March or April. With the arrival of warm weather, the plants go dormant for the summer. Our two native Zephyranthes species, Zephyranthes atamasca and Zephyranthes simpsonii, are frequently confused with the non-native, white-flowered Zephyranthes insularum or the non-native, pink-flowered Habranthus robustus. But the native Zephyranthes have very thin, linear leaves and are winter-growing, whereas the non-natives have wider leaves and are summer-growing. If it's July and your Zephyranthes has a thick clump of green foliage, it's not one of our two native Zephyranthes!
Zephyranthes atamasca is an extremely desirable and showy little plant that produces sweetly fragrant, relatively large flowers reminiscent of small Easter lilies. Fortunately, it is very easy to grow in moist soil in dappled shade to full sun. A single bulb will quickly form a large clump of dozens of bulbs and propagation is simply a matter of dividing a clump and separating the bulbs. Seeds are relatively short-lived and should be sown soon after ripening. They require no special treatment and germinate promptly. The seedlings, unlike the parent plants, are in no hurry to go dormant and they seem anxious to grow as long as possible and to build up as large a bulb as they can. If watered freely and provided with rich soil, the little seedlings can flower surprisingly quickly with seeds sown in April flowering in March or April of the following year. Zephyranthes atamasca may be grown in the ground but it must be protected from the encroachment of taller or larger plants. And it may also be readily grown in pots where it can compete with the showiest potted plants when in full bloom in the spring.
Image and text © 2014 Rufino Osorio