Foxtail Lilies – also Known as Desert Candles

orange foxtail lilies in xeriscape garden

Like many of the other flowers on this photography journey, Foxtail Lilies were another amazing, eye-catching discovery!

Having never seen them before, it took a bit of online searching to find out what they were. And to learn that not only were they known as Foxtail Lilies – but Desert Candles too! They appear to fair well in the xeriscape garden I frequent. Coming in colors ranging from white to yellow and various shades of peachy orange. They are a delight to see popping up in late spring and early summer.

Each frond is covered with hundreds of small flowers. Some are known as Cleopatra Foxtails with their tall, glowing tangerine flower clusters.

tangerine colored Cleopatra foxtail with clouds in background
Tangerine colored Cleopatra Foxtail Lily flowers.

On the particular year I first encountered Foxtail Lilies, there appeared to be a “bumper crop” of them growing happily throughout the gardens.

The conditions leading up to their bloom must have been incredible favorable for their colorful flowering bounty. They all looked so healthy. The tall stalks with all the little flower clusters were exploding everywhere!!

I was not the only one in both awe and curiosity of these towering flowers. Another gentleman happened to be passing by one day as I was photographing them. He asked if I new what they were? Having recently discovered their identity, I was all to happy to share my newly-acquired flower knowledge.

We both agreed how cool they were!

A Gangly Start

Gangly foxtail lilies stalks
Gangly looking Foxtail Lilies stalks prior to bloom.

Like many other flowers, Foxtail Lilies don’t exactly start out all that pretty. In fact, as seen on the photo to the right, they begin life as some rather gangly looking stalks.

If you didn’t know what they were, you’d probably walk right by them without giving them a second glance. You’d be hard pressed to believe they would soon bloom and manifest into the beautiful, flowering beauties that they are.

This year I paid more attention to the Foxtail Lilies seasonal transformation and photo-documented it along the way.

Little by little they evolve. Their asparagus-like, lanky appearance ultimately gives way to hundreds of little flowers. Each stalk is like it’s own floral bouquet.

What’s In a Name?

Yellow foxtail lilies in garden
Yellow Foxtail Lilies with browning at the flower base.

Foxtails come from the Eremurus plant family. I don’t know where the name Foxtails came from? But truthfully, when you look at them – especially as the bottom flowers begin turning brown, the shape really does look like a foxes tail. As for the “Cleopatra” variety, haven’t a clue how her name got into the picture?

As for the Desert Candles name, (total speculation here) perhaps since they grow in dry conditions and their tall flower clusters look like candles?

Some varieties get up to 6 to 8 feet. Others are shorter – but none the less a beautiful addition to any garden that has favorable growing conditions. They thrive in full sun, are drought tolerant and deer and critter resistant. Beautiful and hardy. What’s not to like?

As perennials deriving from a bulb, they come back each year. I learned this from a gardener that has them growing in his beautifully landscaped front yard. He kindly asked me if I wanted some of his excess Foxtail Lily bulbs. Sadly I had to decline because I have no where to plant them 🙁

An Unusual View

While out photographing them one day, I experimented with a different view. A change of perspective if you will. And the result was so unusual! It’s a little tricky to try to photograph them from this angle. Either the plants have to be short enough OR I’ve brought a little step stool with me. That turns into quite the balancing act especially if there’s any wind!!

Ultimately, this unusual view has become my favorite way to photograph Foxtails. That is, unless, there are busy bees on them!

Looking down onto foxtail lily flowering stalk
An unusual photo view – looking down onto a blooming Foxtail Lily.
Looking down onto a cluster of yellow foxtail lilies
Looking down onto a cluster of yellow Foxtail Lilies.

Bees Love Them!!

Bee on foxtail lily
Bee collecting pollen on Foxtail Lilies.

With hundreds of flower clusters on each Foxtail Lily flower stalk, the bess have their work cut out for them! 

Capturing photographs of pollinating bees on Foxtails is a fav. However, it’s no small task as they quickly move from one small lily flower to another.

Early mornings provide a photo-op window. While the temps are a bit cooler, the bees are not moving as quickly. But once it heats up, all bets are off!

There can be dozens buzzing about on their pollination mission. Being that I’m incredible allergic to bee stings, I gotta be careful. But for the most part they seem unfazed by my presence. However, I’m mindful of respecting their space and step away when necessary.

With the Heat of Summer…

foxtail lily flowers with water droplets
Close-up of Foxtail Lily flowers.

By late June, early July Foxtail Lilies are pretty much gone. I’m always sad when they come to the end of their flowering life cycle.

The garden landscape certainly changes its appearance without them there. Their statuesque presence goes missing for now. And it usually signals the heat of summer leading into July is on its way…

Time to explore more gardens and find other flowers to photograph. This is usually the time of year for Zinnias, Coneflowers, Dahlias and other blooming summer garden flowers.

These too present wonderful photo opportunities. Perhaps a Rose Garden as well? And I know just where to find one!!

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