Do you ever forget the names of plants? I do, frequently. I have long conversations in my head that go along the lines of: “What is the name of that dratted plant? It’s on the tip of my tongue, I know it begins with an … M . It definitely begins with an M. Oh yes, it’s an Amaryllis. I knew it had an M in it somewhere.” So it’s twice as hard when said plant has two names, and if I can remember Amaryllis, I can never remember the other name, and vice versa.
At a time of year where there is little floral colour about that hasn’t been shipped in from the Netherlands, these beauties cheer us up no end. The kudos of effortlessly producing such flouncing, extravagant trumpets from a bulb in a pot is too good to pass over, so it’s no surprise that so many of us have at least one potted Amaryllis at home. Except here’s the thing: none of us has a potted Amaryllis at home.
Ceci n’est pas un Amaryllis. It’s not even a picture of an Amaryllis. What we have in here is in fact a Hippeastrum, except everyone calls them Amaryllis, including purveyors of said bulbs who should know better. A true Amaryllis is a lily-like native of South Africa, and the Hippeastrum that we know and love is from South America. Their taxonomy was under dispute, hence the confusion, until the 14th International Botanical Congress of 1987 settled the matter for once and for all. Thirty years later, Sarah Raven’s website is still declaring that ‘Amaryllis are a tender bulb from Brazil and so need to be grown inside’ without a hint of remorse. Thankfully the RHS, that guardian of botanical rectitude, deals swiftly with our confusion by noting that Hippeastrum are ‘commonly, but incorrectly, known as Amaryllis’. That’s Ms Raven told, though she may be forgiven since she offers such a wide range of beautiful varieties as well as detailed growing advice.
Many people throw their Hippeastrum bulbs away after they have done their flowering, which is a shame as they can perfectly well be kept year after year with a little care and effort.
Once the flowers have faded (and they die beautifully), the old flower stem should be cut off just above the nose of the bulb, and the plant should be kept fed and watered until the nights are warm enough for it to be put outside. I usually wait for days no less than 14 degrees and nights no less than 10 degrees before putting my tender houseplants outdoors. (Such temperatures usually occur by June for us in coastal Edinburgh.) Once outdoors, it just remains to keep the plant fed and watered in a bright but not too sunny spot, well protected from molluscs. Mine lived in our cold frame for most of last summer, as it proved simply too delicious for the local slug population.
In late summer, the old leaves can be cut back and the bulb put into dormancy by placing in a cool, dark place for 8 weeks before bringing back indoors to ensure flowering by Christmas. Alternatively, the bulb can be brought back indoors when the night temperatures are starting to drop to below 9 or 10 degrees, and feeding and watering restarted to allow flowering to occur a little later in early spring. The bulb can be repotted every two or three years in well draining but rich compost, always in a pot that is just a little bigger than the bulb itself.
In a Vase on Monday is hosted by Cathy at Rambling in the Garden. Do visit her page and see the flowers that she and many garden bloggers across the world have brightened their houses with today.