Amaryllis (Hippeastrum) in Bloom – or Not – it must be February

This year’s first to flower, a Butterfly (Hippeastrum papilio), opened about a week ago.

Butterfly amaryllis, photographed yesterday

There are 5 more – 2 papilios and 3 Giant Dutch Hybrids – in various stages of budded up. Also, par for the course, we have 4 in healthy-but-not-promising mode; 1 pot of 3 robust papilios that has “wait ‘till summer” written all over it and 6 bulbs that have refused to green up well and will not be with us much longer.

They may be harboring bulb fly or simply be discouraged by last year’s cold dark spring.( It didn’t get warm and bright enough for them to grow until it was almost time for them to stop.) On the good side, they’ve underlined a lesson I probably should have absorbed some time ago.

None of the unhappy ones are papilios and only one of the budded-ups is a carried over Dutch job (the other 2 are new this year). In fairness, this has been an unusually poor year for the giants, but I’ve about decided to admit reality; start saving only the butterflies and thus free up a whole bunch of window and garden space: H. papilio is clearly a more willing species than the standard.

This bulb is at least 5 or 6 years old, and the parent of many ( note pups at left)

In addition to being tough, papilios are low- hassle, because they’re more or less evergreen. Although old leaves turn yellow and die eventually, new ones are always being made. There are no worries about when to stop watering, whether to cut off leaves that still look healthy or any of that. Butterflies don’t need (or want) the usual dry down/leave dormant/wake up cycle. You just give them as much warmth and sun as you can and fertilize as indicated by how much warmth and sun that is – the more the more is close enough.

amaryllis always leave the greenhouse last, to (try to) foil the bulb fly

Added benefit: instead of the dramatic but rather fake-looking naked stem with giant flower rising context-free from the pot, you have a naked stem with giant flower growing dramatically from a leaf-cradle that is itself no slouch.

Slight inconvenience: Butterfly amaryllis bloom sporadically year round. Flowering is most common when most needed, in late winter and early spring, but you can’t count on it. And dramatic as they are they can get kind of lost in high summer when everything else is blooming. I’ve tried nestling the pots among perennials, but they look much better isolated in a patch of hardscape. Last time I had a pot of summer bloomers I put it on a pedestal on the porch, where it looked surprisingly classy, and that’s what I’ll do with this batch – if they do indeed bloom before next fall which they very well may not.

Philosophical note: No matter the species, amaryllis are always on their own schedules, sometimes blooming by the Solstice holidays, sometimes holding out until Valentine’s Day has come and gone. Nor do they always follow The Amaryllis Rule: If there are at least 6 leaves after blooming the bulb will bloom again the following year. My own feeling is that amaryllis were placed on this earth to keep garden writers from getting too full of themselves.

Butterfly flowers are on the slender side and don't open as wide as Dutch Hybrids. A lovely effect in person but difficult for duffers like me to photograph

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  • Lorna Sass Said,

    Absolutely gorgeous amaryllis photos. The first one looks like a Victorian print in the best possible way. I’m going out to buy a bulb right now, well maybe tomorrow when it stops snowing.

    Oh, how I miss my cats; your lucky ones get to sleep in a greenhouse. I think you need to write a book about cats’ adventures in a green house. I’d buy it.

  • Carolyn Jung Said,

    That is gorgeous! As someone who has a black thumb, I admire people who can grow blooms so beautiful as this. I have an orchid plant that I’m hoping, hoping, HOPING will re-bloom. One hopeful sign is that it actually is putting out new leaves. So I guess I have not killed it yet. Whew!

  • Leslie Said,

    Hi Lorna, thanks for the kind words about the photos (the old-print look was a lucky accident). I’ll keep your book suggestion in mind and encourage the cats to do cute things when I have the camera handy.

    Carolyn, welcome. But don’t say black thumb. I absolutely forbid it! Everyone can be successful with plants if they come at it starting with what the plants want from them, instead of what they want from the plants. Happily, it’s very easy to be in synch with amaryllis, and if your orchid is growing well it may well go on to flower ( your thumb is evidently less black than you think).

  • The arcs of your amaryllis are so elegant: your photos do resemble Victorian prints! I must look for this bulb next round at the garden store. But my luck with amaryllis hasn’t been good…one that I re-potted last autumn sent up two handsome leaves, but no flower stem. I know this is a matter of ‘timing and lighting’, but any advice would be welcome.

  • Jean Said,

    Leslie, I wanted to drop by to thank you for visiting my blog and to return the favor. I didn’t know about this species of amaryllis, and they are beautiful; I will definitely look for some of these bulbs. Your photographs of them (especially the first one) look like watercolors. Wow! -Jean

  • Leslie Said,

    Marolyn and Jean – welcome

    and thanks, you guys encourage me to get off my duff, get a better camera – and learn how to use it!

    Sounds like a bit more on amaryllis would be a good idea, so please check back soon.

  • Jenna Said,

    I have an amaryllis that has been split from a plant dating back many generations in my family. I don’t know what kind it is, all I can tell you is that it is orange. I brought a bulb from my main plant into my office. It is getting its first bloom right now. It has been standing so proud and quite straight, but today when I came into my office it is leaning so much that it is almost resting on the edge of its pot. Should I be concerned? Should I stake it more upright? My co-workers and I have been so excited about this bloom and I would be so sad if something happened to it at this point. I’m guessing the flowers will be opening in the next day or two.

    Thanks for any advice you can offer!

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