Amaryllis and other Bulbs in the Spring Garden
March 30, 2023
By Karen Maxwell, Horticultural Specialist
A popular component of holiday décor, the sight of an amaryllis bulb in full bloom is always glorious to behold. The bulb, actually a food storage compartment, holds everything the plant needs to set those blooms, so forcing them for holiday color is an easy task. Come January, for those people not living in Southwest Florida, the faded amaryllis holiday plant probably soon makes its way to the compost bin. Here in USDA Zone 10a, relocating these bulbs to our garden can extend its life for years to come!
One of the easiest true bulbs to grow in our gardens, the amaryllis can fill your garden with bright color in late spring with very little effort on your part. Improper marketing of these large lily like flowers has conditioned many of us to call them amaryllis but, horticulturally speaking, they are in the Family of Amaryllidacea, but correctly, they are Hippeastrum (from Latin for Knight’s Star) and native to South America.
Interestingly, there are only two amaryllis species that naturally occur in South Africa and you have never seen them for sale in a box at Christmas time. This differentiation is probably not worth much more than a tidbit to be saved by our cruciverbalists out there. In 1929, Henry Nehrling, the renowned ornithologist and horticulturist who spent a year assisting the Edisons with their gardens here in Fort Myers, wrote that beautiful crinums were observed near the Traveler’s Tree (Ravenala madagascariensis) which still stands today on the McGregor side of the Edison home. For today’s purposes, our discussion does not include the giant crinums that appear throughout our landscape, but rather is limited to the hybrids and other related bulbs which can create an unexpected but dramatic focal point in your garden.
Should you be fortunate to receive a Hippeastrum bulb as a gift over the holidays, plant this rainforest (Brazil) bulb only about ½ way down into fertile, well-drained soil where it will receive part sun during the day (These are not like northern bulbs that need to be deep in soil to winter over). Over time, these bulbs tend to sink and work their way deeper into the soil, so it’s important to lift them out and up every couple of years. Of course, most Hippeastrum are hybridized to offer a lovely variety of colors, but one species native to Brazil, the Butterfly Amaryllis (Hippeastrum papilio) is blooming in our ginger and bulb garden now. This plant will provide the grower with weeks and weeks of stunning blooms.
Situated under our Kapok tree, one will find an Amacrinum, a portmanteau of amaryllis and crinum – our Crinodonna Lily is a cross between one of the only two true amaryllis species, Amaryllis belladonna x Crinum moorei. Keeping company under the Kapok, as well as outside our Moonlight Garden and in other well-watered locations on the property, enjoy the magnificent pink of the hybrid crinum Ellen Bosanquet – a compact crinum of unknown origins that was hybridized and introduced to Florida gardens by her husband, Louis Bosanquet in Florida around 1920. Rarely available are the Orange River crinums which grow along South Africa’s longest river, at elevations of 9,000 feet, and come in shades of whites to pinks.
Have you ever seen a Blood Lily (Scadoxus multiflorous)? What I would consider a super bloomer, it is another South African bulb that will virtually disappear in your garden or pot while dormant until the spring when the new growth emerges. A conspicuous large pompom of bright red, this plant bursts forward with the warmth
of our late spring and summer days. Like all the other bulbs in this family of Amaryllidacea, the Blood Lily is an undemanding addition for our gardens, and care must be taken not to overwater any of these bulbs to avoid rotting them, or worse, forget where they are planted and lose them!
In the family of bulbs, tubers and corms, I would like to share yet another Florida agricultural disaster story wrought by Hurricane Ian. Last month, I made my annual trip to Lake Placid (Florida) to purchase caladium tubers for our gardens – these are our go-to summer plants for ease of care, great color, weed-crowding and of course, their historical significance in our gardens. Each year, new varieties are introduced and in addition to the tried and true varieties we have always grown, we enjoy trialing the new hybrids to make responsible recommendations to our garden members, class participants and customers.
Lake Placid has eight of the nine growers that combined, produce 99% of the world’s caladium tubers (the 9th is located in Avon Park). The annual harvest typically begins in late fall, following a long drying period before being shipped around the globe. In July, with the tubers in a full flush of foliage, caladiums are celebrated at the annual festival in Lake Placid, akin to Holland’s tulip festivals where hundreds and hundreds of acres of beautiful foliage create enormous patches of color on our earth’s surface.
This year, there will be no festival. The growers estimate that Hurricane Ian destroyed nearly 95% of their annual caladium crop (in addition to their adjoining citrus crops) and the recovery period is in the realm of five years. Each year, we had our choice of variety, and we could purchase by the case, but not this year. What little the growers have left, is being sold at a price five times what we normally pay.
A SPECIAL NOTE TO OUR MEMBERS:
We were able to purchase a few dozen tubers of the most popular and vigorous old Florida varieties: Postman Joyner, Florida Elise and Carolyn Whorton. These will be available to our members in the Garden Shoppe on a first-come, first-served basis.