(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 29, 2010. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
Most gardeners are introduced to Amaryllis bulbs (or Hippeastrums as they are correctly named) by received a boxed kit for Christmas. These enormously popular bulbs are sold in millions during the festive season and provide a cheap and fun gift that the recipient can plant and watch grow into a beautiful blooming bouquet. The majority of amaryllis bulbs sold during the holidays will probably be thrown away, although with some care and effort they can be kept growing to flower again in subsequent years. Reds and whites seem to be the most popular colours of bulbs bought in this way, and 'Red Lion', 'Christmas Gift', 'Ludwig Dazzler', striped 'Minerva' and the pink and white 'Apple Blossom' are all commonly available at garden centres, flower shops, supermarkets, catalogues and online stores. They are large, bold, tropical-looking and absolutely stunning as a table centrepiece. Could anything be easier? Plant the prepared bulb into a pot of compost with the neck showing, water sparingly until in good growth and the beautiful stem (often more than one) will develop into a huge but delicate looking group of flowers. For the price of a bunch of flowers you have potentially many years of bouquets to come. Incidentally, amaryllis are becoming a very popular cut flower these days.
Your interest is piqued. You decide to grow some different varieties. You learn the names of your favourites and you are hooked!
Although technically members of the Amaryllidaceae genus, the plants we call Amaryllis should really be called Hippeastrum, but most people still know them as Amaryllis and for the purposes of this article I'll continue to call them that. The familiar large singles are all hybrids. Since the 18th century plant breeders in Europe particularly Holland and then throughout the world have been developing hybrid bulbs from various Hippeastrum species, introducing new characteristics, colours and forms.
In the 1960s and 1970s U.S. breeders such as John Doran, Alan Meerow and notably Fred Meyer were developing new hybrids from Hippeastrum cybister which occurs naturally in South America. These new varieties are known as spider amaryllis and by 2002 there were nine available. These have long, ribbon-like narrow petals and are unlike any other group of amaryllis hybrids. Even in bud these are very different looking, they open to reveal sometimes curly, spiky or frilly edged petals in fabulous colour combinations such as dark reds, lime green, brownish orange, deep pink, creamy white and burgundy. The flowers almost drip nectar and the leaves are almost evergreen on some of the varieties. They are just as easy to grow as the regular hybrids and with care will live for many years. Like other Amaryllis they can be grown outdoors in US zones 8 to 11.
Some of the cybister types are listed below:
'Ruby Meyer' - Cherry red, with a whitish yellow stripe in the centre of the petals, predominately the top half of the flower. Petals reflex with age.
'Lima' - Pale green and burgundy blooms.
'Reggae' - Wine red and light green curled petals.
'Tango' - Pale green and cherry red frilled blooms.
'Merengue' - Brownish orange spidery blooms.
'La Paz' - Cherry red with lime green blooms.
'Chico' - intensly thin, wispy brownish red and pale green blooms
'Bogota'- Wider, cherry red petals with a whitish yellow stripe on the lower petals
'Flamengo' - brownish red petals with a central green stripe
'Emerald' - white brushed with red and a green throat
'Sumatra' - orange-red with paler lower petals
'Rosario' - bright pink with paler central stripe
There seems to be more and more interest in these smaller, exotic, orchid-like types of amaryllis among breeders, and it is certain that over the coming years some really exciting hybrids will be entering the market place. As cut flowers I think these plants have a fantastic future!
Bulb stockists are now offering cybister varieties, you can check the Garden Watchdog on Dave's Garden for suppliers, or go to the variety you want on Plant Files and search for vendors. I've found them in garden centres and on eBay too.
I hope this article will encourage many of you to give these wonderful bulbs a try, for the price of a bunch of flowers you can't go wrong!
All photographs in the article are my own.
"Amaryllis" by Starr Ockenga
"Hippeastrum: The Gardener's Amaryllis" by Veronica M Read