GNH Lumber February 2024

THROUGH THE WOODS: A Winter Garden of Amaryllis

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By NANCY JANE KERN

Amaryllis by Nancy Kern

A FEW OF MY “YOUNGSTERS” insist on giving me something for Christmas, so over the years I have told them I would like an amaryllis bulb. It was something they did not know about and something that brought back fond memories of my childhood. We could share the wonder and amazement, just as I watched my grandmother’s bulb grow each winter. This would be something not too expensive and, to my surprise, I have received gigantic, jumbo amaryllis bulbs (2/year) each in a special pot, with names like “Red Lion,” and “Apple Blossom.” Directions were followed calling for modest watering and some sunlight from a south-facing window. It wasn’t long before a flower stalk started up from each bulb.

The red lion showed two stalks that seemed to shoot up as we watched. The stalks reached a height of 17” and each produced five 5” blossoms. The apple blossom was a slower bulb to flower with only one stalk and again it had five flowers that were 5” in diameter. Weeks went by with the last flowers fading as another stalk appeared on the apple blossom. It was a repeat performance that prolonged the enjoyment of these magnificent plants. The internet has helped update everyone with a series of emailed photos showing how the bulbs progressed. I didn’t know much about the origins of these plants, so again went to the internet to seek more information. These bulbs were named for the Greek nymph Amaryllis who fell in love with the handsome but icy-hearted shepherd, Alteo.

Alteo told her his only desire was to have a new flower brought to him. Amaryllis went to the Oracle at Delphi and was told to pierce her heart with a golden arrow at Alteo’s door. She dressed in maiden’s white and did this for 30 consecutive nights, dripping blood until he finally opened his door. There, outside, was only a flower with crimson petals that had sprung from the blood of Amaryllis’s heart.

Aside from this myth, one of the first mentions of the species in botanical literature is by Dr. Paul Hermann in Paradisus Batavus in 1698. This Dutch scientist described a plant sent to him from the New World tropics for identification in 1689. History is murky as to exactly when the amaryllis was discovered in South America. The cultivated species, genus Hippeastrum (hip-ee-ay-strum), is derived from the Andes Mountains of Chile, Peruand Bolivia as well as from Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela and as far north as Mexico and the West Indies. Thomas Jefferson enjoyed them as did many other prominent botanists and important people to the present. In the language of flowers of the Victorian era, the Amaryllis represented splendid beauty and was considered the queen of all bulbs. Centuries of intense and secretive cultivation and hybridization have given us over a thousand hybrids, and they are an important part of the immense, billions of dollars of the Dutch bulb-growing industry in Holland. The United States, Africa, and other countries also raise many varieties of Amaryllis bulbs. These bulbs are precious. They take about seven years or more to develop for market and pass through at least nine pairs of hands during harvesting and preparation to ship. A bulb needs at least five good leaves to regenerate itself after blooming, should be treated as a house plant, and can be set outside for the summer, watered, and fertilized. In September it is allowed to dry out in its pot and go dormant for about two months in a cool, dark area. To bloom, remove dead leaves, and water, and place in the light again. I have followed all of the instructions each year and now add the previous years too. It will be a magnificent winter garden to sustain us until spring flowers come again.

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