In the miserable dark days of winter a wonderful addition to the ‘houseplant’ frenzy is the Amaryllis or Hippeastrum. Often gifted in a box with the typical brillant reds and vibrants whites there are infact a plethora of other options when one starts to delve in to buying them direct from growers or indeed from any number of mailorder and online bulbs retailers.

Last year I was gifted 3 Gigantic bulbs bought by a friend visiting Kukenhof tulip festival in April. They had been bought on a market stall, pretty much like vegetables. I already had two or three from previous gifts and  purchases so the collection is steadily growing and bringing much joy indoors in the colder months, early in the year.

Many ‘force’ them into flower for Christmas displays but I tend to let mine do their own thing and flower when they want to. That said I do have a regime to attempt to keep the bulb growing and blooming and it’s adapted year by year as I see what works for me and what doesn’t.

My oldest Amyrillis and my only one for many years is a pale cream and pink one, a second hand gift from a family member. It has seen me through 3 or maybe 4 homes, is more than a decade old and is incredibly tolerant of neglect. This year however I have noticed it’s bulb is decidedly smaller than in previous years so am removing the flowers immediately and letting it put all it’s energy back into the bulb. It’s in a pot for now and will be fed weekly, then once all risk of frost is past (June here in the Northern Hemisphere) it will go out and for the first time ever into the ground. There it will remain until September when I will dig it up, hopefully much fatter than when it went in, and start the drying out and dormancy phase -6- 8ish weeks in a cool dark space before repotting in November (pot no more than double the bulb size) and bringing back into the light.

The name Amaryllis has been, and still is, interchangeable with Hippeastrum for this group of plants but a debate has long raged about the true botanical categorisation. Beginning in earnest in the early 1800’s and completing only in 1987 when agreement was finally reached at the 14th International Botanical Congress . Hippeastrum is now the name for the more commonly sold plants of South American origin with the genus containing around 91 species (as at 2013). The South African plant retains it’s Amaryllis Genus with only 2 species (A.belladonna and A.paradisicola).

The name Hippeastrum was given to the Genus by botanist William Herbert (1778 – 1847), derived from the Ancient Greek meaning Knight’s Star (Hippeus – mounted knight and Astron – star) 

Deep red Hippeastrum flowers

Along with it’s popularity so the availability of some of the rarer species have become easier to find with H.papilo and H.cybister (Spider group) topping the bill. Both are on my list of ‘must have’ plants and of in the case of H.cybister there are several varieties to chose from!

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