Amarillis - Hippeastrum


The large bulbs commonly sold under the name of Amaryllis, often for winter flowering and apartment cultivation, actually belong to the genus Hippeastrum; while the genus Amaryllis includes only one species, native to southern Africa, the genus hippeastrum has a few dozen species of bulbous widespread in nature in Central and South America, in tropical and subtropical areas, of which over the course of decades some six hundred have been produced hybrid varieties. The amarillis they are very popular bulbous, because they need little care, and produce huge, trumpet-shaped flowers, consisting of six large colored tepals. The large flowers are carried by a thick fleshy stem, which rises from the center of a rosette consisting of three or four ribbon-like leaves, leathery and thick; most of the amaryllis cultivated leaves in vegetative rest in the winter months: the bulbs in vegetative rest lose the aerial part, and it is precisely in this period that they are commercialized. In fact they are often used for forcing, because a bulb grown in a vase in an apartment can sprout within 4-6 weeks; so if we begin to water the pot in October, we will get a vigorous plant in the middle of winter. If we prefer to follow natural vegetative cycles, we can instead keep the bulb in rest from autumn until mid-winter; as soon as the days begin to lengthen, we will start watering the pot again, obtaining flowering at the end of winter. Generally a bulb produces only one stem, which carries two or three flowers; but very cultivated bulbs can also produce two or three stems in a single vegetative season. The great production of hybrids testifies to the success that these flowers have always had among plant lovers, and especially among those who like to grow flowering plants even at home.

The species of Amaryllis

The genre hippeastrum it has many species, some of which differ very little from one another; in addition to this, we find about six hundred varieties on the market. To better describe the flowers of these plants, the hybrids have been divided into some groups, which identify particular floral forms, which differ in the shape of the petals, or in the number of flowers on each stem, or even for particular streaks. When it comes to amarillis it is not enough to remember the most widespread species, also because very often in the nursery we will find a greater number of hybrid varieties rather than botanical species. Then we will describe some of the botanical species of hippeastrum more common, and some of the groups in which the many varieties available have been divided; sometimes the two terms coincide, or some groups of varieties of hippeastrum have inherited the name from the botanical species that gave the salient features to the hybrid varieties.

Hippeastrum cybister

Species native to Bolivia and Argentina; this amaryllis has flowers with a very particular shape, due to the very thin and arched tepals, so as to give this species the common name of amarillis spider; there are many hybrid varieties of hippeastrum that find among their progenitors the hippeastrum cybister, so much so that there is a group named cybister, characterized precisely by a particular form of tepals, which come to be almost thread-like. The flowers are of particular color, bright red with green zoning, with a very elegant effect, although perhaps a little different from the typical amaryllis flower, opulent and large.

Hippeastrum gracilis

Species native to Brazil, widely used in hybridizations, as it gives rise to a very vigorous and luxuriant plant, which produces large leaves and very showy flowers; these amarillis are pure white, with purple or brown veins on the central part of the petals, very marked and evident, and also very decorative. The hybrids maintain the vigor of the plant, as well as particular colorations of the petals, which have veins on the margin in a contrasting color, or even at the center of the petals. There are also scented varieties.

Hippeastrum roseum

Species that produces large stems, which can reach one meter in height, well before the bulb begins to produce foliage; flowers are of medium size, of salmon pink color, with light veins, the throat is light green or yellow. Very decorative hippeastrum, especially if grown in the garden, as the absence of leaves during the development of the floral stalk can be masked by other plants around the flowerbed; the thin and erect stems are much more decorative if there are more neighboring bulbs. A single bulb in a vase, which gives rise to a thin erect stem, initially bare, forcibly takes on a bizarre appearance, which can distract from the beauty of the flowers.

Hippeastrum sonata

Many varieties of amaryllis are brought together under the name sonata, or even sonatini; these are hybridized varieties in South Africa, which have medium or small flowers, but often gathered in inflorescences that count at least three for each stem. Being hybrids, it is obvious that the ones that reach the bulb traders, are those with the most beautiful flowers, or very particular colors, usually in shades of red or dark orange, even if there is no lack of double flowers or semi-double, or even white or light green.

Hippeastrum vittatum

One of the first species brought to Europe from South America, it has a fleshy and erect floral trunk, with medium-sized flowers, very elongated, trumpet-like, with white petals, divided by a long bright red streak. Very particular and pleasing, these amaryllis too have entered into many hybrid varieties, which preserve the striped petals.

Amaryllis cultivation

The hippeastri are bulbous plants, which produce a very large, roundish bulb, which can reach 10-12 cm in diameter; to always have a flowering plant, over the years, it is essential to cultivate it at its best, both during flowering and after flowering, when we have only the large elongated leaves. The varieties of amaryllis we find on the market are all deciduous, while in nature there are evergreen species: these plants lose their foliage during the dry season, and typically their flowering occurs in spring, or even in early summer.
The strong adaptability of these bulbs to apartment living, and to forcing, makes it easy to prepare large bulbs already for winter flowering, selling them in the fall. So we can decide to buy an amaryllis in autumn, to make it flower in cold weeks as a houseplant, or follow nature, and buy an amaryllis at the end of winter, to be able to then grow it in the garden or on the terrace, to then pick up the bulbs in protected place on arrival of cold. In any case, we prepare a fairly small pot, only a few centimeters larger than the diameter of the bulb, and bury the bubo for two thirds, leaving the apex outside the ground; we will use a good fresh universal soil, mixed with little sand to increase drainage.
Watering must be provided carefully, avoiding wetting the bulb, and moistening the soil well, and to be repeated when the substrate tends to dry out. We place the vase in a bright place, but away from direct sunlight; outdoors if the minimum temperatures are above 7-10 ° C, in the house if we find ourselves in a cold period, far from direct heat sources, which can excessively dry the air. Most of the varieties begin their development by lengthening the stem that will bear the flowers, only then will the leaves begin to develop; when the stem is at least twenty centimeters high, we start adding fertilizer water to the water every 12-15 days. We continue to water throughout the growing season only when the soil is dry, and without wetting the bulbs; after flowering we cut off the floral stem at the base, and cultivate the leaves, until they begin to dry naturally: at this point we can suspend the watering, and let the bulb enter in vegetative rest.

The roots of the amaryllis

Typically, when they come into vegetative rest, bulbous plants completely dry out, that is they lose the aerial part and also the entire root system; this does not happen to hippeastrums, which even in full vegetative rest maintain some large fleshy and turgid roots. The survival of these roots is essential to allow the plant a rapid recovery after the period of vegetative rest. Therefore, when the leaves dry out, in late autumn or even in winter, it is not advisable to extract the bulb from the ground, because leaving it in the vase allows us to keep the roots protected, which will remain vital until the next vegetative season. To allow the plant to come to vegetative rest, therefore, we will suspend the waterings, and as soon as the leaves completely dry up, we can cut them, and move the pot in a sheltered and fresh place; for example a garage or a cellar can be perfect, because the climate will certainly be cold, but without frost. A period of at least six weeks in the cold, or with temperatures below 12-15 ° C, is essential to allow the plant to rest and prepare the flowers for the following year. If we have placed the amaryllis in the ground, as soon as the leaves are dried, we can extract the bulbs from the ground, and place them in a container completely covered with peat or perlite or vermiculite, and place them in a cool place.

Pests and diseases

The plants grown outdoors, in spring, can be attacked by aphids or mites, often inherited from plants that are close together, which usually tend to nest on the buds; treatments with common pyrethrum-based products can be decisive. Typically the diseases that affect the amaryllis are due to improper cultivation conditions, and typically to excess watering, or to land that favors water stagnation; this often leads to the development of molds, which can also lead to the rot of the bulb, with consequent death of the plant. Even watering carried out in a careless way, which goes to repeatedly wet the leaves, can be harmful, as they favor the formation of mold on the foliage. If we grow our amaryllis at home, it can also suffer from poor environmental humidity, we can remedy it by periodically vaporizing the leaves with demineralized water.
Typical problems of these flowers are linked instead to the non-flowering: to have a hippeastrum plant that continues to bloom from year to year it is fundamental that the leaves are cultivated, watered and fertilized, until their natural death, which occurs in autumn; in addition to this, even a period of vegetative rest, in a cool and dry place is very important; a plant forced to vegetate throughout the year will tend to never bloom again.

Propagate the amarillis

The large bulbs tend over the years to produce small lateral cloves, which can be detached and cultivated as new plants; remove them from the mother plant in spring, and wait a few days before placing both the mother bulb and the bulbils on the ground. These large bulbs can also be sown, even if in Italy we find almost exclusively hybrids, and therefore we will not be able to know what the characteristics of the flowers of the future plant will be, if not when it begins to bloom, after some years of cultivation.

The name of the amaryllis

The botanical name is Hippeastrum but we continue to call them Amaryllis. The hippeastrums actually belong to the amaryllidaceae family, and the confusion between the names of the two genera is due to the fact that Linnaeus baptized Amaryllis the first amaryllids he saw, originating in South Africa, and later, all similar flowers, regardless of whether they were originating in Africa or South America, they were classified in the genus Amaryllis. It was only in 1987 that botanists finally decided on the distinction between the African and the American genres, and only then did the genus Hippeastrum arise, in which all the genres originating from the American continent were inserted. In the meantime, for centuries, the plants were called Amaryllis, so now the common name remains that, for ordinary mortals, as for bulb producers, collectors and nurserymen.

Amaryllis flower

The amaryllis flower is obviously one of the most beautiful and characteristic aspects of this plant. Its shapes are indeed unique and the colors are special. Analyzing the flower from a botanical point of view its forms are interesting. The amarillis flowers are in fact funnel-shaped, always very brightly colored and above all have extremely evident stamens and pistils. Each bulb can have from 1 to 2 stems and these stems can carry from a minimum of 2 up to a maximum of 6 flowers depending on the species.
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