Amaryllis: Master Gardener Plant of the Month

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Amaryllis refers to the genus that only includes Amaryllis belladonna, a native to the African continent, which means “beautiful lady” in Italian. It is indeed a beautiful, exuberant show stopper! The “amaryllis” we find so plentifully here in West Virginia at this holiday season belongs to the genus Hippeastrum, called the “naked lady” or surprise lily. It has more of a South American origin and grows well and multiplies in our West Virginia climate with a usually pink blossom on a naked stalk that blooms long after the leaves have disappeared. Regardless of the differences in origin, after much hybridization, Amaryllidaceae is now just one big happy family.

The name “Amaryllis” means “sparkling” and comes from Greek mythology, describing the singing abilities of a certain nymph. And sparkling they can be, with colors in many varieties of pinks, reds, whites and combinations. Victorians held the flower as a symbol of strength and determination, due to its height and sturdiness.

Growing your first Amaryllis is pretty much a no-brainer. If not already potted, plant the bulb in a pot (preferably sturdy and heavy due to the weight/height of the flower stalk), up to slightly below the bulb neck, in well-draining potting soil. Water, place in a bright, indirectly sunlit site, wait 3-6 weeks, and Viola! Staking may be required, but take care not to puncture the bulb itself. Gently snip off spent blooms, and, when all blooms have faded, cut the stalk back to an inch or so above the bulb neck. Although many discard the bulb at this point, a repeat show is easily achieved. All sorts of time schedules are available, but the easier the better. Let the leaves continue to feed the bulb, keep in the light and watered, and, when all leaves are spent, trim and place in an out-of-the-way corner in a cooler garage, keep dry to barely moist, and wait for the show to begin again. When growth reappears, move back to a sunny spot, water as needed, and enjoy. Amaryllis will continue to perform for many, many years with little effort.