Notes from Trenoweth

Amaryllis – beautiful lady

Of all Latin plant names there can be none more flattering than Amaryllis belladonna. Amaryllis is the "beautiful shepherdess" of classical literature and "belladonna", beautiful lady in Italian. This bulb, well known on Scilly, as well as being very beautiful, is full of surprises earning the common names, "surprise lily" and "naked ladies" or its southern hemisphere name of "March lily". Bursting forth from the bare ground in late August the flower stems grow amazingly rapidly and invariably right on time.

The flowers are incredibly exotic especially when one considers that the flower of our gardens is identical to the wild plant of South Africa Cape Province. Horticulturists have made little "improvement" in it other than some darker pink forms and a white variety.

Amaryllis flourish as a commercial crop in Scilly, enjoying our light soils, warm dry summers and mild winters, and gardeners elsewhere have to try and emulate these conditions. Growers know that a prolific flowering of Amaryllis often precedes a good Soliel d’Or season. This is because both need summer heat, but interestingly the reasons differ. Sols need warmth to develop flower buds whilst Amaryllis form their flower buds the previous winter but these abort if the summer is too cool. Growers can tilt the balance in their favour by burning over the ground since traces of smoke that enter the soil stimulate flowering. Even in the summer heat of Cape Town, if scrub overgrows the bulbs they will cease to flower until a wild fire produces a spectacular blooming.

Returning to that wonderful name, it is so good that is has been adopted by the producers of the indoor hippeastrum for commercial reasons. Of course, hippeastrum is another amazing plant, but for me the grace and beauty of the true garden amaryllis cannot be equalled.

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