For years, one of my first holiday decorating purchases has been an amaryllis. My family has always been fascinated with the dramatic and amazingly fast-growing amaryllis.
The amaryllis is prized for its exotic trumpet shaped flowers that can grow from 4 inches to 10 inches across. The large bright green bud that tops the one- to two-foot stalk is a promise of the red, white, pink or salmon flower that will soon bloom. Each stalk will produce two to four flowers. Generally, the larger the bulb, the more flowers it will have.
The genus name Amaryllis comes from the Greek work “amarysso,” which means “to sparkle.” Legend has it that Amaryllis was the name of a shepherdess who shed her own blood to prove her true love, and in doing so inspired the naming of this flower. In Victorian England, the amaryllis symbolized intense pride and beauty due to its extreme height.
Many different cultivars claim the name amaryllis and are part of the Amaryllidaceae family. There are more than 600 named varieties. Amaryllis bulbs were labeled as lilies in the 18th century, which explains why they have so many different names such as the March lily, the Belladonna lily or the Jersey lily. The holiday varieties belong to the Hippeastrum (the Greek words for horse and star) genus and are native to South America. In nature, amaryllis bloom in spring or summer, but Christmas amaryllis are products of forced blooming.
The amaryllis is in high demand during the Christmas season. The U.S. imports more than 10 million amaryllis each year, mainly from Holland and South Africa. Amaryllis can be purchased as a bare bulb to plant or already potted. You can purchase a kit that contains a bulb, the growing medium and a pot, or you can purchase pre-potted bulbs. The bulb likes a narrow container – it should be 1-inch wider than the widest part of the bulb and twice as tall as the bulb to allow for good root development. Use potting soil high in organic matter and plant the amaryllis so that up to half of the bulb is visible above the soil. Place it in the pot with the pointed end up. Water thoroughly with lukewarm water and allow to drain. Water again when the top two inches of the soil feels dry. You should water the bulb sparingly until the shoot emerges. Gradually water more as the bud and leaves appear, but don’t allow the plant to sit in water. Amaryllis bloom about seven weeks after potting. The warmer the location, the quicker your plant will bloom. As the individual flowers fade, carefully remove them.
In my family, purchasing an amaryllis during the holiday is not an impulse buy – we have at least one every year. We have purchased just about every different color and variety, solid and striped, but the reds and pinks are our favorites. We have purchased them online, at local greenhouses and big box stores. It has become a family tradition that we look forward to. Just like holly and lights, they are part of the decorations. Some years we get carried away – like the year my daughter Julia had half a dozen of them in the house, using them as a science experiment; or the year Julia and Aunt Linda had a competition to see whose amaryllis would grow the tallest and bloom first!
No matter what variety or color you decide on, you are sure to be delighted with growth and beauty of this Christmas flower. And if you are interested in a friendly competition, I’m in!