Spectacular flowers on tall green stalks and commonly known as amaryllis have become a holiday favorite in homes around the world for their large and beautiful blooms. Of all the flowering bulbs, the many hybrid varieties of amaryllis are the easiest to bring to bloom both indoors and outdoors and for an extended period of time.
The true amaryllis is of the family Amaryllidaceae and has only two known species, both found in the winter rain areas of South Africa. The more common genus of this family is known as Hippeastrum and is native to tropical and subtropical Central and South America. The genus Hippeastrum has nearly 90 species with nearly 700 hybrids and cultivars that easily grow and flower indoors during the cold holiday season of the Northern Hemisphere.
One of the first of the Hippeastrum species, Amaryllis pardinum, was discovered by English botanists in Peru in 1866. Bulbs of this species were sent to England and first bloomed in June 1867. The flowers were so beautiful and unlike anything ever seen in Europe before that a genuine sensation rippled through the European botanical community. The spectacular flowers were spotted like a leopard with large, broad petals that show off a beautiful, symmetrical face.
Bulbs of most Amaryllis are large, measuring about 2 to 5 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) in diameter. From the bulb, a long, erect stem ranging from 12 to 31 inches (30 to 80 cm) in height will grow. Between two to seven leaves will grow from the stem, and depending on the species, two to 15 flowers will bloom. The flowers are large, about 5 to 8 inches (13 to 20 cm) across with three sepals and three petals that are brilliantly colored.
The name amaryllis finds its origin in Greek mythology. Amaryllis was a shepherdess who loved a shepherd named Alteo. Alteo possessed the beauty of Apollo and the strength of Hercules. Alteo loved flowers and Amaryllis died trying to win Alteo's affection. Upon her death, the blood of her heart created a beautiful crimson flower known today as the amaryllis.
During the 18th century, the amaryllis flowers were commonly known as a lily. Even today, in some parts of the world they still carry that common name. They are called the March lily in South Africa and the Jersey lily in England. The Italians refer to the amaryllis as the Madonna lily, while the people of Portugal call the beautiful flowers the "Bordao de Sao Jose," meaning St. Joseph's staff.
The hybrid amaryllis known as Lemon Star first appeared in the United States in 2007. When the spectacular luminescent flowers first open, they have a beautiful yellow cast that lightens to a creamy white as they age. The throat of the flower is a rich green when it first opens, then gradually turns to a yellowy cream.
The amaryllis Aphrodite is named after the Greek goddess of love and beauty. This is a double amaryllis with pure white petals whose tips have been brushed with salmon-pink. The lime green throats add amazing contrast to this magnificent flower. It is considered one of the easiest of indoor flowering plants to grow.
New, exotic hybrid varieties of amaryllis flowers are now being developed, such as Chico, the flower shown here. Chico has spidery, narrow petals that bend gracefully backward. The burgundy and green blooms make for a unique flower display. This South American tropical beauty is said to resemble exotic tropical birds.
Many varieties of amaryllis bulbs are sold in countless retail stores across the Northern Hemisphere during the holiday season. Amaryllis flowers are only outsold during the Christmas season by the poinsettia. Amaryllis bulbs are easy to grow and thrive in the warm living rooms of homes surrounded by wintery weather.
Many nurseries worldwide sell and ship amaryllis bulbs to the ever-growing number of amaryllis-loving customers. Such reliable sources, like the White Flower Farm of Litchfield, Conn., guarantee their bulbs to be healthy, free of disease and ready to gloriously bloom. Amaryllis bulbs have become a major component of the worldwide flower industry.
The first breeders of Hippeastrum bulbs lived in the Netherlands during the 18th century. These Dutch growers began to develop hybrids and cultivars from bulbs brought from Mexico and South America. In 1946 a group of Dutch growers moved to South Africa and began cultivation of bulbs there. Today, there are Hippeastrum bulbs being grown and developed in Australia, Japan, Israel, Brazil, India and the United States
So as the winter months once again settle over the Northern Hemisphere, remember the flowers commonly known as amaryllis. Their many spectacular shapes and brilliant colors will add warmth and beauty to any home where a stark wintry landscape has once again temporarily taken over.
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