By Nita Robertson, AIFD, CFD
Botanical/Scientific Name: Hippeastrum spp.
Common Names: Amaryllis, Barbados lily
Plant Family: Amaryllidaceae/Amaryllis
Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) is a stunning bulbous plant. In the flower industry, it is sold as a winter flowering houseplant and, from about September to May, as a showstopper fresh cut flower. The spectacular large trumpet-shaped blooms have enchanted people for centuries.
Hippeastrum breeding began in England in 1799, and by 1830, about 100 Hippeastrum crosses had been made and given scientific names. New hybrids were being cultivated in the U.S. by the mid-1800s.
Today, the U.S. imports more than 10 million amaryllis bulbs every year, mostly from Holland and South Africa. Although most amaryllises come from these two countries, bulbs are now being developed and grown in the U.S., Japan, Israel, India, Thailand, Brazil, Peru and Australia.
Greek mythology brings us the story of Amaryllis, a beautiful but shy maiden who shed her own blood to prove her true love to a handsome and strong but cold-hearted shepherd named Alteo, who loved only flowers. Alteo proclaimed that he would fall in love only with a girl who could bring to him a new type of a flower that had never existed in the world before. Amaryllis sought advice from Pythia, the Oracle of Delphi, who instructed her that to win Alteo’s heart, she must sacrifice her blood for him, so she went to Alteo’s door for 30 nights, each time piercing her heart with a golden arrow. On the 30th night, when Alteo finally opened his door, before him was a striking crimson flower, sprung from the blood of Amaryllis’s heart. The amaryllis flower is now a representation of love, determination and strength, its red color symbolizing the sacrifice that Amaryllis was willing to make to win Alteo’s love.
How to Plant, Grow and Rebloom
Few bulbs are easier to grow than amaryllises. Just plant bulbs in good potting soil, water regularly, and provide bright indirect light. Most varieties will begin to bloom six to eight weeks after planting, but some can take as long as 10 weeks.
Choose larger bulbs to get larger blooms; smaller bulbs will provide fewer stems and fewer blossoms. Plant each bulb into a 6-inch or 8-inch pot. Heavy (clay or ceramic) pots are preferable because of the weight of the large blooms and the length of the stems. Plant bulbs, pointed end up, in high-quality potting soil, with approximately one-third of the bulbs above the soil. After planting, water the soil well to help the bulbs “settle” into their pots. Then keep the soil barely moist, and watch them grow. Once the bulbs begin to grow and flower, consider stabilizing the long stems with a hyacinth stake, bamboo stem or other decorative stake.
Hippeastrum bulbs can also be easily rooted and grown in water, in jars or special bulb-forcing vases. When growing amaryllises in water, make sure that only the very bottom of bulb comes into contact with the water, and then only until roots start to develop, which can then dangle into the water.
These beautiful bulbs can rebloom every year with some extra care. Once the flowers have faded, cut the flower stalk to 1 inch above the top of the bulb. Continue to water and feed the plant regularly with fertilizer. Amaryllises will produce a number of leaves during the spring and summer, which help the bulb generate energy for the following bloom cycle. In mid-August, begin withholding water, and let the foliage die back naturally. Store the dormant bulb in a dark, cool and dry place for two to five months. Then, about six to eight weeks before you want the amaryllis to flower again, repot the bulb in fresh soil, place it in bright indirect light, water and enjoy watching your new blooms grow.
Waxed Amaryllis Bulbs
An interesting concept in the growing of amaryllis bulbs has been trending for a few years now: wax-coated bulbs. Waxed bulbs contain all the water and nutrients required for them to produce flowers! The base of the bulb is dipped in wax, often colored, and then sometimes painted, sprinkled with glitter and otherwise decorated. This concept creates opportunities for creative placement of these beautiful flowers in various locations—on a dining, coffee or side table; countertop; mantel; etc.—with no need for soil or water.
Care and Handling of Cut Amaryllises
Cut amaryllises can look stunning for weeks when properly handled and cared for.
• When cut amaryllises arrive in your store, they can be stored in their shipping box in a floral cooler at temperatures between 41 F and 50 F for a few days, if needed, before processing.
• When processing cut amaryllises, gently and carefully remove the stems from the box; they can crack easily.
• Recut the stem ends with a sterile, sharp knife, removing about 1 inch of stem, and immediately place them into tall containers with 3 to 4 inches of properly proportioned flower food solution—preferably bulb-specific flower food.
• Store these flowers in a floral cooler at temperatures between 41 F and 50 F (amaryllises are one of the few tropical bulb flowers, native to the Caribbean region and to tropical and subtropical South America).
• Change the flower food solution and recut stem ends every day for longer life.
1. Amaryllis stems are hollow and often need extra support in floral designs. One technique is to insert a long support stake—a thick wood skewer, hyacinth stake or sturdy flower stem, for example—into the hollow stem, to keep it strong and upright. The hollow stem creates a perfect cavity for hiding a stem used as a strengthening mechanic.
2. To arrange amaryllis stems into floral foam, there are a couple of methods. One is to attach bind three wood picks to the bottom of each stem, extending about 1 inch beyond the stem end, with waterproof tape. This anchor will help you insert the stem into floral foam and secure it. A second method is to cut a hole in the floral foam, in which you can place the flower stem. You can then brace the stem by placing three wood picks into the foam, around the stem.
3. When you want a cluster of amaryllis blossoms, to create a focal point, for example, gently position the stems so that the blossoms are in the position you like, and secure the stems with waterproof tape, stem wrap or binding tape. Then arrange the stem cluster into the design.
4. Amaryllis stem ends are prone to splitting and curling. If you wish to prevent this, wrap the stem ends with waterproof tape.
• The common name amaryllis comes from the Greek word “amarysso,” which means to sparkle.
• In the “Language of Flowers,” the amaryllis represents strength and determination.
• Certain substances isolated from amaryllis bulbs and stems have medicinal uses. Studies are notably being done on using the substances to treat Alzheimer’s disease.
• The Huntington’s Disease Society of America has adopted this flower as its symbol to represent hope and celebrate the advancements in HD research.
• Amaryllis flowers come in all sorts of shapes and colors. Plant breeders have developed more than 600 named varieties.
• Christmastime is not the primary flowering period for amaryllis bulbs. Depending on the planting time in the Northern Hemisphere (usually October through April), amaryllis bulbs typically flower from late December through June.
• Amaryllis bulbs can generate blooms for up to 75 years, when properly cared for.
• Waxed amaryllis bulbs don’t need water to grow.
• You can grow amaryllises from seed, but it can take up to six years for them to reach maturity and produce flowers.
Where to Source
• Florabundance florabundance.com
• Holland America Flowers hollandamericaflowers.com
• Mayesh Wholesale Florist. mayesh.com
• Dutch Grown dutchgrown.com
• Longfield Gardens longfield-gardens.com