An exploration of the amaryllis.

Max pulled me out of bed yesterday with much gusto:

“Mom, mom! You have to see this! The flower bloomed!”

I never thought I would be dragged from sweet slumber to witness the blooming of a flower… Once I was awake enough to regain my senses, I realized how much it meant to me that Max was excited about a flower blooming and that he trusted me enough to share it with me.

He wanted to add an entry to his nature journal as a component of our Knowing Nature Challenge, but I told him that a houseplant wasn’t really “natural”. Max insisted that it was a “plant” and that it lived in our house and therefore should be included. I maintained that we should focus on wild plants, while Max pointed out that we had already profiled the camellia and other “planted plants” so it seemed unfair to exclude the amaryllis just because she happened to reside in a pot. This led to a long, intricate, fascinating conversation about the different between cultivated plants and natural plants.

Obviously, Max made some compelling, humanistic arguments for why cultivated plants should not be shunned from the Challenge, so we agreed to include all plants and wildlife in our home and yard.

Turning our attention to the amaryllis plant, we wanted to discover more about bulb plants in general and this one in particular. We learned that its bulbs should be planted between October and the end of April and that its flowering period ranges between late December and the end of June. It flowers for a fantastic period of 7 to 10 weeks!

The larger the bulb, the more blooms it produces. Unplanted bulbs should be stored in a very cool place, lest they decide to try to grow. We talked about why cold air prevents the plant from growing, and hypothesized that it maintains the vigor of the enzymes and cell processes without creating optimum conditions for growth. Both of us were not entirely satisfied by a general explanation on this, so I’m keeping my eyes and ears open for a way to observe this experientially and “in the raw”.

Image source.

The amaryllis is related to daffodils and also goes by the name Hippeastrum hybrid. According to Dr. Ombrello at UCC, the life history of a hybrid amaryllis goes something like this:

After the plant’s blossoms wither, the large bulb sends up long strap-shaped leaves. These leaves will persist for at least several months, producing food by photosynthesis and storing it in the bulb. The bulb literally enlarges as the energy is stored. Eventually, the leaves yellow and die, and the bulb goes into a state of dormancy. In its natural habitat, this would be the cool, dry season. After several months of “rest”, new flower buds have developed and the bulb becomes active as a result of increased moisture and temperature in its environment. Within 6-10 weeks it produces a large flower stalk topped with a cluster of colorful funnel-shaped flowers.

Max was excited to note that our amaryllis has a bulb in the back. When will it bloom? Both Max and I have a strong interest in the answer to this question.

After the amaryllis has stopped flowering, it can be made to flower again. The bulb that never stops blooming. Here’s how:

  • Just cut the old flowers from the stem after flowering and when the stem starts to sag, cut it back to the top of the bulb.
  • Continue to water and fertilize as normal all summer, or for at least 5-6 months, allowing the leaves to fully develop and grow.
  • When the leaves begin to yellow, which normally occurs in the early fall, cut the leaves back to about 2 inches from the top of the bulb and remove the bulb from the soil.
  • Clean the bulb and place it in a cool (40-50 deg. F), dark place such as the crisper of your refrigerator for a minimum of 6 weeks. Store the bulbs for a minimum of 6 weeks.
  • Plant Again. After 6 weeks you may remove bulbs whenever you would like to plant them. Plant bulbs 8 weeks before you would like them to bloom.

A profile portrait of our amaryllis. She is so beautiful we can’t help thinking she must have a very kind fairy which guards her.

We also discovered from several sources that you should not store amaryllis bulbs in a refrigerator that contains apples because this will sterilize the bulbs. Crazy! Why? It looks like we’re off on another adevnture with our friend, the amaryllis. Word on the block is that ethylene gas plays a part in why the amarylis and apple can’t be friends.

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