Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Plant profile: Amaryllis belladonna

You might think you know the genus Amaryllis already - those big bulbs you get around the holidays that produce huge red or white flowers? Well, those are actually Hippeastrums, from South America. The real Amaryllis looks similar, but comes from Africa. And there's only one species in the genus!

Latin name: Amaryllis belladonna ("amma-RILL-iss bella-DON-ah")
Common name: Belladonna Lily (UK), Naked Ladies (US), March Lily (S. Africa)
Originally from: Africa
Blooms: Clear pink (some ranging from white to reddish) blooms appear in late summer. They also come in white and deeper purplish/reddish shades.
Light: Full sun
Water: Rain is plenty. No summer water!
Where to find in P. Garden: We have quite a few clumps in the left bed.

This is a funny plant, which grows from a huge bulb. The leaves are produced in the autumn or early spring in warm climates depending on the onset of rain and eventually die down by late spring. The bulb is then dormant until late summer - they require a dry resting period between leaf growth and flower spike production. Just when you have forgotten about them and the leaves are long gone, the bulbs shoot up a deep burgundy spike topped with a cluster of 2 to 12 funnel-shaped clear pink trumpet-shaped flowers, and no leaves at all - hence the common name "Naked Ladies."

The species was introduced into cultivation at the beginning of the eighteenth century, having been discovered growing wild on the Cape of Good Hope by a few Dutch growers who emigrated to South Africa. The plants reproduce slowly either by bulb division or seeds and have gradually naturalized from gardens throughout much of the West Coast since these environments are like their native South African habitat. Driving around the parched California hills in late summer you'll often see big clumps of Naked Ladies by the roadside.

As tough as they are, these bulbs don't like to be moved. I've planted quite a few in the garden but only a couple have flowered in the first year. In 2011 we got a flower spike from every bulb - about 25 scattered through the garden.

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