To the delight of flower lovers, amaryllis arrive in garden and nursery centers just when our outdoor gardens have shut down. Their downy white and brilliant red blossoms cheer us through December and into spring. Watered and placed on a sunny windowsill, they soon send up shoots of long green leaves and before long, multiple stars of color burst forth.
I have heard that the word amaryllis springs from the Greek “amaryssein,” the meaning of which is controversial. Some say sparkle, and others say horse star. Either is supposed to symbolize great beauty.
Yet some forty years before the birth of Christ, Virgil, the most famous of ancient Roman Poets, immortalized a maiden named Amaryllis. In his pastoral poem Eclogues, she fell in love with Ateo, a strong and handsome gardener. He demanded she bring him a new and unknown flower. For thirty days she pierced her heart with a golden arrow as she followed the path to Ateo’s house. When he finally opened the door he saw, sprinkled along the path, the beautiful flowers which had sprung from her blood.
John Milton, best know for Paradise Lost, wrote Lycidas in 1637 as a pastoral elegy to commemorate a close friend who died when his ship sank in the Irish Sea off the coast of Wales. In his sadness, he wrote:
Alas! What boots it with uncessant care
To tend the homely slighted Shepherds trade,
And strictly meditate the thankless Muse,
Were it not better don as others use,
To sport with Amaryllis in the shade,
Or with the tangles of Neæra’s hair?
Genus Amaryllis Hippeastrum are the ones most often sold in grocery stores and garden shops. They are considered the result of many years of hybridizing in Holland and come in colors suited to our diversified tastes.
Amaryllis are so easy to grown but here are a few tips to success.
The larger, firmer the bulb, the more flowers.
Amaryllis like close quarters and a tight fitting container.
Choose bulbs with lots of circles of past leaves. Every three or four leaves produces a flower cluster.
Water once to get things going. Then when the leaves appear, don’t water too often or you risk the plant tipping over.
Now is a good time to buy and grow them. Lots of places have them on sale.
There is another variety of amaryllis called naked lady or Amaryllis Belladonna. Glenn and I call them surprise lilies. In the spring our gardens are filled with sword like leaves which stay green for a month or so, absorbing sun, rain, and nutrients. Then they die and we think no more about them. Suddenly in July, up shoot long, tall stalks sporting beautiful, lily-like, purple flowers. Surprise!!
Did you know that the amaryllis is used internationally as a symbol for organizations associated with Huntington’s disease, a rare, genetic degenerative disease of the nervous system?
Adult-onset Huntington disease, the most common form of this disorder, usually appears in a person’s thirties or forties. Early signs and symptoms can include irritability, depression, small involuntary movements, poor coordination, and trouble learning new information or making decisions. Many people with Huntington disease develop involuntary jerking or twitching movements known as chorea. As the disease progresses, these movements become more pronounced. Affected individuals may have trouble walking, speaking, and swallowing.
You can help support research for this devastating disease by buying your amaryllis from organizations like Huntington’s Disease Society of America.
Finally, a few stems with full-blown flowers can be placed on a dinner table, or hung upside down above the table, without becoming instantly limp. By the way, if your flowers tend to lean, you can place a thin, bamboo stick inside the hollow stem to hold it erect.
Every Christmas I receive an amaryllis plant from a beloved grandchild. They bloom beautifully in the container in which they are sent, but this year, I plan to get more creative and you can, too. For magical ways to use the amaryllis you grow, go to amaryllis magic.
I hope they don’t mind that I’ve used one of their beautiful pictures.