Amaryllis are crowd-pleasers. Give someone a bulb that chases away the post-holiday blahs with bright blossoms, sprouts on autopilot, requires almost no care, and performs stunts throughout the winter, and you’ll certainly be a hero. Amaryllis produce immense, look-at-me blossoms in cheerful shades synchronized with a moment in time when you desperately need a pop of plant-related color. Then they continue shooting up bloom spike after bloom spike, despite forgetful watering and less-than-perfect growing conditions. Amaryllis make all of our thumbs green.
The beauty of amaryllis is that anybody can make them happen. These bulbs are magic. Before they are even buried in soil, they sometimes sprout plump buds full of promise. Tuck them in a pot, put them in a window, and you will enjoy the performance of a lifetime without fuss. And what a show! Each amaryllis flower is 4 to 5 inches wide or larger. They come in plus sizes and look like blaring trumpets for weeks — and then the next flower spike pops up. As Lorraine Calder of White Flower Farm observes “These are no-fail bulbs; amaryllis are powerhouses.”
Calder should know. For the last 15 years, she has traveled to Holland every winter to check out what’s new in amaryllis, keeping her finger on the pulse of their progress and seeking novelties for White Flower Farm. And amaryllis (botanically classified as Hippeastrum cultivars) have come a long way from the first species introduced into Europe from South America in the late 17th century. The fact that they tolerated the lengthy voyage by sailing ships — first to Europe and eventually to the United States — is a testimony to their fortitude.
So what’s the buzz on amaryllis? Innovations are growing by leaps and bounds. The color range has increased to bring in more yellows, salmons, and deep burgundy. Fragrance is a new perk — “Rebecca” produces a perfume that tantalizes noses from across the room. Modern amaryllis throw out more blossoms per stem and send up more stems per bulb over an extended period of time. “You can still be enjoying amaryllis in April,” Calder says. Plus, the Nymph series promises plump, double, many-petaled flowers earlier in the season on short stems that are less apt to topple. On the other hand, for folks who want a sophisticated, artsy spin on the standard fare, there’s a trend toward smaller, spider-like flowers with the Cybister group from South America.
How to make it happen? Easy. Just place your bulb in a shallow container, give it a quick drink (bulbs prefer not to be overwatered), set it in a sunny window (amaryllis tolerate low light, but brighter beams encourage more compact stems), and watch your bulb send up a flower spike. If the stem starts to stretch, fit it with an amaryllis support to prevent toppling (preemptive bracing is a good idea). Continue to water when the soil is dry to the touch as flower after flower unfolds. And don’t give up when the spike is spent: Another performance might be waiting in the wings. It’s almost too good to be true!
Expanding the Rainbow
• “Yellow Star” is creamy chartreuse with green in its throat.
• “Exotic Star” has reddish-orange stripes.
• “Carmen” is rich burgundy.
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• “Magical Touch” is a reverse picotee featuring white-hemmed red petals.
• The Amadeus series all have frilly, plus-size double blossoms.
• The Nymph was selected for its huge, many-petaled flowers
• “Splash” is a fascinating double with layered, lipstick-red petals, each with a prominent white stripe.
• “Alfresco” looks like a frilly blizzard with densely stacked petals.
• “Sumatra” is a Cybister type with spider-thin, open-faced coral blossoms.
• “Emerald” features thin white petals with green at the center.
• “La Paz” has deep red streaks in its