|Scientific name Hippaecastrum, common name amaryllis|
Buds of Hipeastrum, amaryllis
Amaryllis, the holiday gift bulb, in the genus Hippeastrum. They are are South American, with about 55 species, 34 in Brazil (Brazil is big!)
Both Amaryllis and Hippeastrum are genera in the plant family Amaryllidaceae, a big group of lily-like plants. One reason for the confusion of names is that both came to the attention of Europeans about the same time and are superficially similar. They are related, since they are in the same plant family, but it is a long way from South Africa to South America: they can't have grown in the same place for millions of years and a common ancestor is not likely more recent than 100 million years ago when Africa and South America were both part of the large Southern Hemisphere continent Gondwana. (Link animation).
Linneaus named Amaryllis in the late 1700s, It was the middle 1800s when botanists realized the plants from South America should not be lumped with the African plants and the genus Hippeastrum was created for the former.
Common names for lily-like plants that were brought to Europe and North America from around the world were and are a mess. For example, Amaryllis belladonna,
|Same plant a week later|
Hippeastrum stole amaryllis as its chief common name and the plant with scientific name Amaryllis has to make do with being called belladonna amaryllis.
Hippeastrum, which I've always called amaryllis and will call amaryllis for the rest of this post, has many varieties and hybrids in commercial production, with colors from the red-orange at the top of this post to variegated to white and nearly-yellow to pink and red.
Hippeastrum species are found across South America, with species native to Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, Bolivia Eucador and Nicaragua at least. Some are rare to endangered in nature, probably due to a combination of over-collecting and habitat destruction. Imagine the big flowers of the amaryllis plants we raise in pots growing wild in a meadow: awesome! (photo photo2 both from Brazil)
Most bloom in the spring in South America, so in September to November, then store energy from the leaves all summer. Few are at all frost tolerant so they are from subtropical or tropical areas, which are diverse across South America. The big bulbs don't tolerate soggy soil, though, so look for them in warm dry habitats.
In nature amaryllis are pollinated by carpenter bees (tropical bees that make bumblebees look small) and moths. Some of the cultivated species are sterile and only reproduce by producing smaller bulbs from the main bulb. Other species self-pollinate easily, frequently making seeds. Most species, however need pollen to be carried from one plant to another to form seeds. Seed production drains energy, so for a bigger bulb, gardeners cut off the seed heads. Most will periodically produce small bulbs from the main bulb.
The plant contains poisonous alkaloids so shouldn't be eaten by people or their pets. You can imagine why: a bad taste and an upset stomach by animals that nibble the plant is a trait that protects the big flowers and leaves. If you damage the flowers or a big single leaf, it is rare that the plant has energy enough for a replacement that growing season.
Flowering by the amaryllis takes over my blog post:
|Looking into the flower.|
Comments and corrections welcomed
Wikipedia, quoting the World Checklist of Plant Species online at Kew Gardens, says there are 91 species of Hippeastrum; the Angiosperm Phylogeny website, which I know better, says 55 species. Apparently there are many hard-to-classify forms.
Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist