Peter Oberwtter & Rhodophiala bifida

Cynthia Mueller
Wed, 19 Mar 2003 04:20:20 PST
Lee...Greg Grant has told me that there are several more lengthy accounts of Peter Heinrich Oberwetter in early issues of the American Amaryllis Society bulletins, and also a small pamphlet with more details of Oberwetter which he hopes to dig out for us at a later date (he is having neck surgery today).

And, the aggie-horticulture website server with the slight mention of Oberwetter that Judy Glattstein noticed thru internet search is humming away in the same building where I spend my days - but we need some more details to get our teeth into.  It's possible that names of exact correspondents in Argentina could be found, and that Alberto might recognize them, and their activities.  I hope to find out more.

Cynthia W. Mueller

>>> 03/18/03 11:06PM >>>
At 8:38 PM -0500 3/18/03, Judy Glattstein wrote:
>I did a brief Ixquick search on Peter Oberwetter, and found this site
>on Southern gardens. In the section on German influence it merely mentions
>his name (and several others) as important for their introduction of several
>taxa, including Rhodophiala bifida. Interesting, but I hope to find out more

I found the following two passages about him in Scott Ogden's _Garden 
Bulbs for the South_. (All typos are mine.)

pg. 11
<<When Thad Howard began collecting rain lilies in San Antonio during 
the early 1950s, the Zephyranthes world was still rather small. His 
garden included the "old" species described above and several of the 
wild rain lilies of South Texas. The only hybridizing that had been 
done with the group had taken place in faraway India.

Early in the century Sydney Percy Lancaster, secretary of the 
Agricultural and Horticultural Society of India, crossed sevveral 
rain lilies into a strain known as x Cooperanthes. These were hybrids 
of Z. grandiflora, Z. citrina, and a species obtained from a German 
plant collector in Austin, Texas. In deference to this source, a Mr. 
Peter Henry Oberwetter, Lancaster referred to these bulbs in his 
notes as "Cooperia Oberwetterii."

Oberwetter's activities will be discussed further in a later chapter. 
For now, what merits attentions is the essential direction of 
Lancaster's hybridizing. He had united the colorful tropical species 
of Zephyranthes with a fragrant, hardy rain lily from central Texas. 
The resulting offspring grew robustly and displayed a range of warm 
pastel colors.

Dr. Howard tried importing Lancaster's crosses from India to Texas. 
The bulbs were shipped but never arrived, and Howard resolved to make 
his own hybrids from scratch. Along with breeding, dedicated 
collecting in Texas and Mexico soon expanded his rain lily garden to 
undreamed-of proportions.>>

pg. 42-43
<<The vigorous heirloom strain of Rhodophiala seems to be of true 
Southern origin, for it is unknown to gardeners in Argentina, where 
the bulbs are native. Although oxblood lilies are distributed widely 
though the South, they are especially common in the old Germanic 
communities of central Texas. Their concentration centers on Austin.

During the 1840s central Texas attracted immigrants from southern and 
western Germany, who came to the fledgling republic in search of 
political and intellectual freedom. Many were persons of romantic 
sensibility, with a love for nature and yearnings for an honest, 
agricultural life. They were captivated  by the rugged, oak-covered 
hills and clear-flowing springs of the new land.

One among them, Peter Henry Oberwetter, took a special interest in 
the plants growing on his farm near Comfort, Texas. Oberwetter began 
collecting the wild rain lilies he found on the hills, and he sent 
them through the mail to gardeners around the world. During the Civil 
War, he moved south into Mexico (many German colonists sided with the 
North during this conflict, and left Texas to avoid persecution). 
While in Mexico Oberwetter continued to collect and export bulbs; 
when the war ended, he moved to Austin, where he lived until about 

During this period Oberwetter introduced oxblood lilies to America, 
while he sent the native giant prairie lily, Zephyranthes drummondii, 
around the world. As he cultivated bulbs in Austin, he must have 
discovered and selected the vigorous Rhodophiala strain we now enjoy. 
His legacy lives on in the oxblood lilies flowering each autumn in 
countless dooryard gardens throughout the South.>>

--Lee Poulsen
Pacific Bulb Society - Secretary
Pasadena area, California, USDA Zone 9-10 
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