Friday, January 14, 2011

Amaryllis or Hippeastrum ? 

Amaryllis have been in cultivation for decades, perhaps centuries. Modern taxonomy has actually spilt the names Amaryllis and Hippeastrum into separate genera. The time-honored Christmas Amaryllis lily we see so often in bulb catalogs and at retail stores is actually a Hippeastrum, not a true Amaryllis . The actual Amaryllis is a more subtropical / Mediterranean growing bulb, and one of the best examples has been the Naked Lady group, Amaryllis belladonna. These are very easy to grow, just not in wet Florida. The plants like a coolish rest in winter, and fairly dry summers, not what Florida has to offer !!


Amaryllis belladonna
the "Real" Amaryllis
aka Naked lady Lily

Amaryllis belladonna
without foliage, therefore 'Naked Lily'


Hippeastrum papilio
The Butterfly Lily



Hippeastrum johnsonii


Dutch Hippeastrum hybrids
The Christmas Amaryllis


Hippeastrum blumenavianum


Hippeastrum Gilmar

Hippeastrum traubii

Of more interest to Florida gardeners has been the "other" Amaryllis groups, properly called Hippeastrum.
These are fairly common landscape plants in coastal Gulf states, Florida, and many parts of California. Easy to grow, in a wide range of colors and sizes, and easily propagated by seed or division, these plants are curiously not as common as once seen. I wondered why, and have not gotten any solid answers from any grower I know of. Perhaps the limited range of colors 20 or 30 years ago dissuaded people from growing these flashy and sturdy plants. The major downside to this line of plants is their relatively short flowering season, lasting 2-4 weeks. The newer hybrids have longer lasting flowers in some dazzling patterns and colors.

Dr. Alan Meerow at the USDA-Agricultural Research Service ( ARS) station at Chapman Field in Miami has been working with Hippeastrum breeding and genetics for over 20 years. He has grown many generations of colorful hybrids well suited for our climate, and has generated several hybrid lines for propagation to the nursery trade. It will be interesting to see the responses to the plants within the nursery trade.

The venerable 'Christmas Amaryllis' which we see so often in retail garden centers has been chilled to induce it to flower in the short days of the year. Naturally, these plants flower going into summer, so don't be too surprised if you plant your Christmas gift plants, and they grow to hefty dimensions, then flower "off season" in May. The plants are easy enough to grow, but most Hippeastrums suffer from mites, aphids, and thrips. These pests are easily controlled with a short series of weekly sprays of any botanical or organic pesticide. Their diet is easy enough to provide, but in most soils, an extra addition of a cup of bone meal and a half-cup of a slow release fertilizer such as Dynamite or Osmocote mixed into the planting soil will yield a solid plant. Let the plants go dormant in winter, and many of them will lose most or all of their leaves. This scheduled rest period allows the plants to switch their energy away from growing into flowering.

There are several robust species which do well in gardens, and a number of heritage hybrids that deserve more space in gardens than we see today. A good sunny spot with at least 4 hours of direct morning sunlight and well-drained fertile soil are good starts to growing these plants effectively. Start with a few bulbs in a pot, let the plants become quite potbound to help them produce maximum flowers, then plant the bulb cluster into the landscape. many species and primary hybrids produce lots of viable seed, and the seedlings are fast growing. It's fun to see the differences in the children produced from your growing efforts, equally fun to give the seedlings to friends and neighbors for their gardens, too.

At Pinecrest Gardens, we're trialing a dozen or so basic hybrids created by my friend Mike McCaffery in Gainesville, Florida. I have the long growing season that he lacks in his area, so he makes the hybrids, and I can grow the seedlings to flowering rather fast. Some of the results are really encouraging, and I hope we can distribute some of the 3rd and 4th generation seedlings to local residents. I encourage anyone with an adventurous spirit and some extra gardening space to try a few 'Hipps' in their garden. You may discover what many of us have known for decades; that some of these old standby plants are still worth growing.   

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

    

















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