Prized for its striking, trumpet-shaped flowers, amaryllis is native to tropical and subtropical regions from Mexico down southward to Argentina. When potted and given a partially sunny spot, they bloom easily indoors, and can also be grown outdoors in especially temperate regions of the U.S.
It’s important to be clear what we mean when we say “amaryllis”, though. In 1938, a dispute arose among botanists exactly which plants should be recognized as Amaryllis. Though the father of plant and animal taxonomy, Carl Linnaeus, had described the genus in 1753, some question remained over whether it had originally applied to a South African plant or its South American cousins. Basing its decision on a specimen housed at the British Museum, the 1987 International Botanical Conference settled the issue in favor of the South African plant. Since then, the plants we in the U.S. commonly call amaryllis have actually belonged to the genus Hippeastrum, though both Hippeastrum and properly named Amaryllis belong to the Amaryllids family.
Whatever you call them, our amaryllis are grown from delicate bulbs, and reward even moderate encouragement. They seem to prefer a snug container, usually only an inch or two wider than the diameter of the bulb, with about half of the bulb exposed above the surface of the soil.
Watering thoroughly when the bulb is planted will promote root growth, but thereafter the soil should be kept only slightly moist and well drained. Blooms typically appear about five weeks after planting, depending on the hybrid. The larger the bulb, the more blooms a plant may be expected to produce.
Because they often remain dormant until December or even January, when they burst forth in vivid hues, many varieties of amaryllis are valued in North America as holiday flowers. Enthusiasts will normally plant at Thanksgiving in expectation of blooms at Christmas.
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