Want to Know About Amaryllis?

Our grandmothers grew pots of amaryllis and their grandmothers before them. Sometimes, even the grandfathers did. 


It is so ancient a custom that one may wonder which was the original pot plant, amaryllis or geranium. But they have not always been common.

Amaryllis Rutila

The first amaryllis I ever saw was probably Amaryllis rutila.

Later, I answered an advertisement in my mother’s Park’s Floral Magazine and acquired an Amaryllis johnsonii.

It grew and flowered, and from that day to this, I have never been without amaryllis, a period of about 55 years.

Two or three years later, when I was a student at Kansas University, the horizon of my interest was enlarged from amaryllis to amaryllids. 

Dr. Samuel Williston

My paleontology professor, Dr. Samuel Williston, was the most brilliant and versatile man I have ever known.

He was head of the Medical School at Kansas and had been formerly in the same position at Yale and was later at Stanford. 

He was a noted anatomist, botanist, linguist, and scholar. He invited me to visit his garden when he learned of my interest in bulbs and other plants. 

There he gave me a Crinum moorei. Some 10 years later, Crinum moorei became the pollen parent of Crinum Cecil Houdyshel.

Many of the plants Linnaeus placed in the genus Amaryllis have since been excluded. However, he included certain zephyranthes, nerines, crinums, etc. 

This process of elimination continued until the publication of “Amaryllidaceae: Tribe Amarylleae” by Traub and Moldenke in 1949.

Amaryllidaceae: Genus Amaryllis

In 1936, William Herbert, an English clergyman, in his book “Amaryllidaceae,” reorganized the genus amaryllis and placed those always popularly known as amaryllis in the genus hippeastrum. 

Baker continued this classification in 1888 in his “Handbook of the Amaryllidaceae.”

Classification Of Amaryllis

This article follows the more recent classification by Traub and Moldenke.

It is probably as nearly perfect as science can now determine and has been accepted by “Gentes Herbarium” of Cornell University. 

We can now forget the word hippeastrum. Our amaryllis is botanically as well as popularly to be known henceforth as amaryllis, but we must exclude the following from this reorganized genus.

Amaryllis Belladonna

The “Belladonna lilies,” long known as Amaryllis belladonna, are now Brunsvigia Rosea, B. Inuit I flora, etc. However, they never were very close to the true amaryllis. 

Habranthus are given generic standing. They are not amaryllis, nor is Sprekelia formosissima. Although catalogs sometimes list these as amaryllis.

Amaryllis Procera Or Habranthus Procerum: Blue Amaryllis

We receive many inquiries about the “blue amaryllis,” long called Amaryllis Procera or Habranthus procerum, by botanists.

Unfortunately, this bulb does not properly belong in the genus and has been given a new classification. 

It is now Worsleya Rayner. It is not amaryllis, only a close relative. It is not blue but lilac.

It is endemic to one Brazilian mountain, has been found in no other place, and apparently will grow in no ether place. 

Only a few expert growers have been able to keep it alive for more than a brief period.

They, too, finally lose it. The bulb is expensive. Don’t waste your money and effort.

That leaves plenty of amaryllises worthy of cultivation or valuable in breeding.

Therefore, some of the most important species are described here.

Natural Hybrid Of Amaryllis

Amaryllis Ambigua is believed to be a natural hybrid growing wild in northern South America.

Amaryllis Elegans and Vittata

Since the cross of Amaryllis elegans (formerly solandriflora) and Amaryllis vittata produces plants exactly like the wild Amaryllis ambigua, it must be that nature preceded man’s effort to make the cross. 

Amaryllis Ambigua

Ambigua blooms a little later than the hybrids.

The stapes are very tall, and 100 in a bed will all stand erect at about the same height. 5” to 7” inches long, tubular, lily-shaped flowers are on each scape. 

The color is white with dotted lines of pink; the fragrance is exquisite.

A bed of 100 is worth walking a mile to see and ten miles to smell.

Amaryllis Immaculata: Candida

Very closely related to Amaryllis ambigua and Amaryllis Elegans is Amaryllis Immaculata, formerly known as candida.

Both specific names indicate that the color is white. Like the others in the group, the flowers are lily-shaped or tubular. 

Those of Immaculata are immense, and so is the plant itself in all its parts. In fact, the bulbs will grow to a diameter of 5” or 6” inches and a weight of 5 lbs or more.

Both Amaryllis ambigua and Amaryllis Immaculata are obtainable from American growers.

Their close relative, Amaryllis elegans, is not listed in American catalogs.

Amaryllis Psittacina: Parrot-Like Flower

Another giant amaryllis, though not close to Amaryllis Immaculata, is Amaryllis psittacina.

As the name indicates, the color of the flower is parrot-like, crimson on the edges of petals with centers of parrot green and crimson lines radiating from the throat. 

It blooms in late fall and winter. California winters are usually too cold for perfect flowers.

The species is rare in cultivation and high in price when found.

Amaryllis Bulmenavia

At the other end of the yardstick, Amaryllis Bulmenavia, is one of the smallest amaryllises.

The largest bulbs seldom exceed 3/4″ inch to an inch in diameter, and the flowers are about the size of a 25-cent piece. 

The flowers are delicately colored, with mauve crimson lines on white.

Amaryllis bulmenavia should be grown only as a pot plant. I doubt if the bulbs are now obtainable anywhere.

Amaryllis Striata: Valid Name 

Amaryllis striata var. fulgida is now the valid name of the plant formerly called Amaryllis rutila, var. fulgida. Therefore, in catalogs, it is likely to be listed by the old name. 

It is a lovely scarlet of good form and easy to grow in pots. Bulbs should be obtainable now from American sources.

Formerly, it was quite common, but the hybrids have been crowding it out.

Amaryllis Leopoldi Flower

The flower of Amaryllis Leopoldi is red with a white tip and green throat.

The wide open flat bloom with a short tube and rounded petals gives the nearest to the ideal contour of any wild amaryllis. 

Its introduction to commerce made possible a great improvement in the hybrids and the resulting strains are known as the leopoldi type.

But unfortunately, the species seems to have disappeared from commerce.

Amaryllis Pardina: Female Panther

Small red spots give rise to the name Amaryllis pardina, meaning “female panther.”

The flowers are pretty, and the species has shown some good hybrids but are not obtainable at present.

Amaryllis Advena: Oxblood Lily

Oxblood lily, Amaryllis advena, is more commonly grown and is better known than any other species of amaryllis.

It is a fall bloomer with five to eight oxblood red flowers in the umbel.

There are two shades, a lighter and a darker one.

The first amaryllis hybrid ever produced was grown by Johnson in England. in 1810, according to Herbert’s “Amatyllidaceae.”

Baker gives the date as 1799, which is probably correct. 

Amaryllis Reginae And Vittata Hybrid

Herbert made the same cross—Amaryllis reginae x Amaryllis vittata, in 1810.

This cross may have been made many times; thus, it is doubtful whether we have the descendants of the original cross as made by Johnson. 

This hybrid is very prolific in vegetative reproduction and has spread worldwide, wherever it is hardy.

There are millions in our own South. It is an excellent plant for outside gardens, where it is hardy. Many are still grown in pots in the North.

In “Amaryllidaceae,” Dean Herbert lists many hybrids produced by himself and others before 1836.

No doubt they affected amaryllis breeding and development, but none of these hybrids seem to be cultivated to the present time.

Amaryllis Ackermanni Hybrid

Still grown and prized, however, is the hybrid Amaryllis ‘Ackermannii’ was raised in 1835 by Garaway from a cross between Amaryllis aulica platypetala and Amaryllis Psittacina. 

It first bloomed in 1839, as stated by Henry Nehrling in “Die Amaryllis.” This is a lovely rosy red with narrow petals—not “platypetala,” wide petaled.

In America, at the turn of this century, Luther Burbank was breeding and developing many new and excellent amaryllis. 

In 1910, 1911, and 1912, I was in Carson City, Nevada, and later in Virginia City, where I was Superintendent of Schools. 

I visited Mr. Burbank many times on trips back and forth from my Pomona, California, home and saw all of his amaryllises for at least three seasons. They were fine—the best I had seen. 

Sibyl Houdyshel: Clone Of Eighty Amaryllis Bulbs 

I bought many amaryllises from him and one complete clone of 80 bulbs which I named for my sister, Sibyl Houdyshel.

When I returned to settle in Pomona, I bought several large bulbs and about 2.000 seeds from Ker’s.

Unfortunately, I could not afford the named varieties, priced up to about 50 lbs, equivalent to almost $250.00 per bulb.

Aigberth Amaryllis Bulbs

My Aigberth amaryllis bulbs and seed were planted in Pomona and later removed to our present Rancho de Las Flores in La Verne, where most seedlings reached flowering size. 

But some were lost because of their less hardy constitution, and others were stolen when not closely watched.

They were not Ker’s best but the finest I had ever seen. 

Lost Of Varieties

During the depression, nearly all were lost or merged with assorted varieties.

The weak constitution of leopoldi and the weaker pardina hybrids made outdoor culture in California very difficult.

We had already noted the fine hybrids being grown by Howard and Smith, and when people could buy a few bulbs, we purchased the stock of their strain. 

Breeding Method: Leopoldi Type

This Howard and Smith strain continues to the present time to lie as the best American strain. 

Their flowers show the strong influence of the leopoldi type, but breeding methods seem to eliminate its weakness, as the best flowers are selected from the field and moved to the greenhouse. 

Here may be seen not only Howard and Smith’s best but often the very finest from Europe, at least for pollen parents.

When large enough, the resulting seedlings are planted in the field, eliminating all the weak ones.

Imported Leopoldi Types

Only a few of the imported leopoldi types are perfect in contour or color, but a few will excel in outdoor-grown American bulbs.

But such bulbs do not have the longevity of the Howard and Smith bulbs. 

Their strain does hold on to much of the leopoldi beauty with the hardiness and longevity of our older strains.

I have had only a few of the Nehr]ingMeade strain. I understand when these were left to posterity by that fine old horticulturist. T. L. Meade, they were fine. 

Now, however, they have been mostly grown for generations in the field and propagated by chance field crosses.

The result is that vegetative qualities have been improved at the expense of beauty.

Holland-Grown Amaryllis

At the close of World War I, I believe the loss of sons led to the suspension of Ker’s Aigburth Nursery.

Holland-grown amaryllis came to the front, and now nearly all imported amaryllis are from the Netherlands. 

We have had amaryllis from several Dutch firms and liked the Royal Dutch strain best, having had better success with the few we grew. 

Imported Bulbs

Most of them are still living after several years. But like all imported bulbs, they do not belong in the field as we grow them.

There may be other reasons the imported leopoldi strain does not have stamina.

Certainly, nature does not produce weak races unless compensations like unusual fecundity exist. 

They may not fit all climates and conditions, but they must fit their own habitat if they survive.

Leopoldi is from the Andes in Peru, probably on the eastern slope. 

Southeast Trade Winds

The southeast trade winds make the climate very humid, and the region is tropical.

That does not produce plants suitable for culture here but can fit the artificial climate of greenhouses. 

I have the feeling also that Dutch growers may dig too early. Very likely, the soils of leopoldi’s habitat are quite acid since there are volcanoes in the Andes.

Using Of More Peat

The Dutch probably use more peat in the soil than we do. This is mostly an assumption, but I have made one test.

Several times bulbs have been sent to me because they could not be made to grow. I potted such bulbs in pure sphagnum, more acid than peat.

They grew at once. My experiments were too few to be conclusive. 

Others should try it. Many United States soils are neutral to alkaline and are improved for most amaryllis by adding peat.

A warm temperature and high humidity are indicated for the leopoldi hybrids.

American strains can be permanently planted outside in the deep South, with an inch or two of soil over the top of the bulbs. 

Planting In Northern Range

In Oklahoma, they should be covered by 4” inches of soil and heavily mulched after the first frost cuts down the foliage. 

Their northern range can be extended a little by planting the hardier, but not the highly bred, strains —large bulbs of those that make vigorous growth.

Do not plant amaryllis, which must compete with the roots of trees, shrubs, or large plants.

They like a little shade but not the shade of other plants. They need to be irrigated often – here, about every 5 days. 

They require rich, sandy soil and frequent applications of fertilizer.

The best way is to mulch several times with manure each season, which is also a good treatment for pot bulbs.

Amaryllis Bulbs

In pots, amaryllis bulbs that are 2” and ½” inches in diameter should have 6”-inch pots. A bulb over 3” inches in diameter needs a 7”-inch pot. 

  • Clean the base of the bulb, but do not scrape. 
  • Do not remove any living roots, but carefully save even the shortest. 
  • The best soil is the rich sandy loam to which leaf mold and some peat have been added. 
  • Add a rounded tablespoonful of bonemeal per pot and thoroughly mix the soil. 
  • The incorporation of some coarse sand will improve drainage.

Mulching Of Soil Surface

Bulbs are set so that the neck and 1.4 of the bulb are above the soil surface. Water well once, but keep only slightly moist until growth starts.

At this time, a temperature of 50° degrees Fahrenheit is about right.

If the soil surface is mulched with sphagnum, the amaryllis may need no more or very little until a few weeks later when they are moved to a slightly shaded place in the house or greenhouse, at about 60° degrees Fahrenheit. If shaded a little, the flowers will be better. 

Feed them liberally as long as they grow, and keep them growing for at least five months.

44659 by Cecil Houdyshel