PLANT OF THE WEEK
Dr. T. Ombrello - UCC Biology Department
Amaryllis, Barbados Lily
Scientific name: Hippeastrum hybrid
Hippeastrum - meaning “horse star”, in reference to the large star-shaped flowers of the plant Amaryllis - a classical name, applied to a woman by early writers. It became a common name for girls in classical Greek pastoral poetry. Later, John Milton immortalized the name with his line “To sport with Amaryllis in the shade”. Amaryllis was used as the common and, initially, as the scientific name for this plant and its close relatives when they were discovered in South America early in the 18th century.
Barbados Lily - The Amaryllis flower, which closely resembles that of a lily, grows in abundance on the island of Barbados.
The genus Hippeastrum encompasses 75 species, all of which are commonly referred to as Amaryllis.
As members of the large
plant family Amaryllidaceae, the Amaryllis is related to daffodils.
Most of the Amaryllis species are native to tropical
America, especially South America. A
few species, however, originated in Africa.
The commercial Amaryllis on the market today have a complex genetic
background. Hybridization among
species began in earnest in the mid 1700’s.
The spectacular hybrids that resulted, with large flowers of red, white,
pink, and all kinds of combinations, have parentage including Hippeastrum leopoldii,
H. reginae, H. aulicum, H. solandriflorum,
H. reticulatum, H. elegans, H. puniceum, and H.
While the hybridization process involves the production of plants from seed, the commercial propagation of Amaryllis for wholesale and retail distribution involves cloning. When a desirable hybrid is produced, it is propagated by separating the small bulbs, (offsets), produced by the parent bulb and growing them to a large size. Offsets are then separated from these, and so on. The process is slow, and this in part contributes to their considerable cost to the consumer. Most hybrids are bred for pot culture, but in the southern United States Amaryllis are grown as garden plants.
In order to grow an Amaryllis successfully, one has to understand its natural life history. After the plant’s blossoms wither, the large bulb sends up long strap-shaped leaves. These leaves will persist for at least several months, producing food by photosynthesis and storing it in the bulb. The bulb literally enlarges as the energy is stored. Eventually, the leaves yellow and die, and the bulb goes into a state of dormancy. In its natural habitat, this would be the cool, dry season. After several months of “rest”, new flower buds have developed and the bulb becomes active as a result of increased moisture and temperature in its environment. Within 6 – 10 weeks it produces a large flower stalk topped with a cluster of colorful funnel-shaped flowers.
In our area, one can duplicate the requirements for growth as follows. After the blooms fade from the potted Amaryllis, cut off the flowers but allow the leaves to develop. Keep the plant moist and fertilized in a bright sunny window. After all danger of frost has passed in the spring, plant it outdoors, pot and all. In the fall, before any frost, take it back indoors to a sunny window, but withhold water and fertilizer. After the leaves are completely brown and dead, cut them off several inches above the bulb and then store the potted bulb in a cool (but not freezing) and dry place. A closet or basement should do. After about a 3-month “rest”, take the potted bulb back to your window and keep it warm and moist. The flowers will only be weeks away. Keep in mind that the bulb rarely needs repotting and does best with a restricted root system. It also prefers to be protruding out of the soil, not buried.
A pink and a red Amaryllis growing in one of Union County College's greenhouses.