The butterfly amaryllis, or Hippeastrum papilio, is a relatively new addition to the world of the cultivated amaryllis. At one point thought the be extinct in its natural rainforest habitat, it is now widely propagated throughout Holland and the U.S.
Description More refined than the flowers of a regular amaryllis, the blooms of Hippeastrum papilio are reminiscent of an orchid. Flowers of pale cream are tinged with green and heavily striped in deep maroon. Each is over five inches high and three inches wide, with pointed petals that resemble an exotic butterfly’s wing. Blooming annually in early spring, the butterfly amaryllis bulb will produce two or three blooms on two-foot stems.
Name This plant was first described in the latter half of the 20th century by Pedro Felix Ravenna, an Argentine collector. Originally named Amaryllis papilio, it was later reassigned to the Hippeastrum genus by botanist Johan van Scheepen. Although similar to the amaryllis, which is native to Africa, the bulb proved to be a distinctly South American species and was subsequently renamed Hippeastrum papilio. Commonly sold as amaryllis, Hippeastrum are native to tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Both Hippeastrum and Amaryllis are part of the Amaryllidaceae family.
Discovery After Argentine plant collector Dr. Carlos A. Gomez Rupple happened to find a butterfly amaryllis growing in a Brazil garden in 1967, it was assumed that the new species was extinct in the wild. Hippeastrum papilio was later found growing in tall trees in the southern Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, but it remains endangered due to the rapid destruction of its rain forest habitat. Fortunately, its popularity has led to widespread cultivation by commercial growers. Although you are not likely to find this species at your local garden center as you would ordinary amaryllis, bulbs of the butterfly amaryllis are readily available through larger nurseries and a number of internet sources.
Cultivation Butterfly amaryllis can be grown like a regular houseplant; unlike other amaryllis, this plant does not require a period of dormancy and the foliage should be allowed to remain evergreen. Place in a location where it will receive plenty of bright sun, especially during the darker winter months. It can also be placed outside in a sheltered area during frost-free months. To help prevent rot, plant the bulb shallowly, with most of the bulb above the surface of the soil. Water weekly and fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer. You can help stimulate flowering by gradually reducing watering from October to January. The bulb performs best if allowed to remain slightly potbound.
After spending 28 years as a teacher and librarian, Gwen Bruno is now a full-time freelance writer residing in suburban Chicago. As a preschooler, she lovingly tended a small patch of weeds in her backyard. Luckily, her parents supported her budding horticultural endeavors, and she's been gardening ever since.