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They are commonly called Amaryllis, or amarillids, of large flowers of South American origin; actually their botanical name is hippeastrum. The amaryllis (we do not call them hippeastri because this name is practically never used in Italy to indicate these plants) have been cultivated as flat bulbous plants for many decades; over time many hybrids have been produced, so much so that nowadays in the nursery there are almost only hybrids, while the botanical species are reserved for connoisseurs and collectors.
It is generally large bulbs, with round bulbs that exceed even 10-12 cm in diameter; in spring the bulb produces long leathery ribbon-like leaves, which can easily reach 45-50 cm in length, dark green and shiny; between the leaves in late spring or in summer a thick fleshy trunk rises, which bears some large trumpet flowers. Amaryllis flowers are generally red, pink or orange in color, but there are hybrids of the common air, with white and rarely yellow flowers.
Each bulb produces 3-6 long leaves, up to two floral stems, and on each stem can bloom up to 5_6 flowers. In fact this happens only if the bulb is well cultivated and "fattened" in the previous season; if the cultivation is not correct and the plant cannot produce sufficient reserves for the following year, we will probably have to settle for 1-2 flowers. After flowering the leaves are still vegetating for weeks, and when autumn arrives they dry up, allowing the bulb to come into vegetative rest.
Grow the Amaryllis
In South America there are several species of Hippeastrum, but in the nursery we mere mortals will find only modern hybrids, and therefore we can describe what are the best cultural treatments for the latter, which, unlike the various botanical species, have similar cultivation needs.
As we said before, these are deciduous bulbous plants; this means that in order to get new flowers and lush vegetation year by year, we will have to allow our bulbous plant to rest during the winter, entering dormancy. To allow this, as soon as the foliage dries up, we will have to suspend the watering and place our jar of amaryllis in a cool place, with temperatures no higher than 10-12 degrees, dry and not too bright.
The following spring the bulb will start to sprout again, only then we will resume watering, and we will place the pot in a place where it receives at least a few hours of direct sunlight every day.
We avoid exposures in full sun for long hours, especially with regards to potted specimens.
These plants originally come from areas with a fairly cool winter climate, and many species can withstand short frosts of low entity; in general amaryllis in Italy can be grown outdoors, in the open ground, only in southern areas, where the winter climate is mild, and frosts are only sporadic.
In the rest of Italy the amaryllis is to be considered a non-rustic plant, and therefore at the arrival of the cold, in autumn, it should be placed in a place sheltered from frost.
In the spring let's remember to water the plant every time the soil is dry, avoiding to leave it soaked for a long time; and every 10-12 days we mix a good fertilizer for bulbous plants or flowering plants with the irrigating water.
In pot or in the open ground
The bulbs are large, generally they are cultivated in pots, positioning them with the apex that emerges from the ground, in rather small pots, as it seems that they bloom better if they are placed in not excessively large containers; they produce a bell'apparato radical, very broad and branched, so it would be appropriate to repot each year, when the leaves are dried, when we put them in the cool for the period of vegetative rest.
If desired they can be grown outdoors, in areas with a mild climate, or away from frost, on a terrace, or in a large vase near the house, facing south. In this case it is good to bury the amaryllis slightly deeper, and possibly even mulch them when the cold arrives; in this way the soil and the mulch will make the bulb less exposed to the cold.
For these plants a good universal soil is used, mixed with sand or pumice stone, to increase its drainage.
Propagate the amaryllis
Amaryllis hardly produce bulbils, but if this happens it is advisable to move the small bulbs into individual pots, so that they can grow, without taking up space from the bulb that produced them; a young bulbillo takes about 2-3 years to grow, before it can bloom. From a bulbillo flowers are produced identical to the bulb from which they were taken.
Amaryllis also propagate by seed, but unfortunately many hybrids are sterile, and their seeds do not give rise to small plants; in addition to this, since the amaryllis are all hybrids on the market, it is difficult to predict how the flowers of the new plants will look. Often it happens that the plants produced from seed are of poor quality, but it is not said, and therefore it is always pleasant to try their luck, to see what plants we will get from small seeds; a plant originating from seed takes a few years to flower, so we will have to treat it for quite a while, keeping our curiosity alive for the flowers that will come.