Late last week the Austin area finally got rain, from one to four inches of it, depending on the location. We’ve been in a drought here, so I welcomed the rainfall, not only for its own sake but because it meant that within a few days the first rain-lilies (Cooperia pedunculata) of the season would make an appearance. Appear they did, and in one happily un-built-on place in my neighborhood where rain-lilies had sprung up in springtimes past I reveled in a colony a couple of hundred strong. Reveled is the right word: it conveys an immediacy befitting the rain-lily, whose pristine white flower lasts only a day or so before an initial tinge of pink on its petals’ tips has spread and darkened in synchrony with the flower’s fading.

A rain-lily as it's just beginning to fade

The rain-lily grows from a bulb. The English word lily grew from Old English lilie, which the Anglo-Saxons transplanted from Latin lilium. Spanish says lirio, which might seem to have come from the Greek leirion that also meant ‘lily.’ But no, Spanish lirio developed from Latin lilium, with an alternation from l to r occurring along the way. As for Latin lilium, it could have come from Greek leirion, but with an alternation from r to l; etymologists also hold out the possibility that both ancient words came independently from a non-Indo-European language of the Mediterranean, which might have been Egyptian.

Though the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike, and fell on the Greeks and the Romans, and though those ancient peoples knew the leirion and the lilium, they never saw a rain-lily, which is strictly an American wildflower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

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©2011–2018 Steven Schwartzman

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