Sunday, December 10, 2017

Holiday Plant Lore: Amaryllis by Carol King

Photo by Carol King
Amaryllis bulbs are everywhere during the holiday season. As one of the easiest bulbs to force and bloom, the United States imports more than 10 million bulbs from Holland and South Africa every year to keep up with demands.  We think of amaryllis as being a winter flower because they are commonplace during the holidays but in nature the amaryllis blooms in spring and summer.

Amaryllis is the perfect gift for a gardener in your life. Greek lore tells us the flower is named after a shepherdess, Amaryllis, who was madly in love with a gardener named Alteo.  As it would be, Amaryllis’s love was unrequited.  Alteo would not love her and said that he would only love a maiden who brought him a unique flower that he had never seen before.

Amaryllis went to the Oracle of Delphi for help in winning Alteo’s heart.  She followed his advice and appeared at Alteo’s door for thirty nights, dressed in white and piercing her heart each night with a golden arrow.  Alteo did not open the door until the thirtieth night and before him stood Amaryllis with a crimson flower that had sprung from the blood of her heart. When at last he opened his door, Alteo fell in love with the maiden surrounded by beautiful Amaryllis flowers.

In Victorian times, the amaryllis was most commonly given by a man to the woman he admired, as the red flower was meant to symbolize radiant beauty. Amaryllis came to symbolize strength and determination, due to its tall height and sturdiness. 

Hippeastrum, the Latin name of this flower, also has an interesting story. The name is derived from the Greek words for horse and star, or “horseman's star." According to the University of California's Cooperative Extension, the name was selected by the Dean of Manchester because of the likeness to a horse's head. 

An amaryllis will take 6 years to reach maturity and bloom when grown from seed, and another 3-5 years for the bulbs to divide and grow into a marketable size. The wait is worth it, though, and a well-cared-for plant can live for 75 years!

Here’s advice for growing the best possible amaryllis: Amaryllis, the Joy that Keeps on Giving.