Container Corner

How to Grow Amaryllis for the Holidays

By Jean Starr

The classiest and most spectacular houseplant you can grow this winter is amaryllis. Amaryllis are actually Hippeastrum, a plant that originally comes from South America. Because I especially enjoy the holidays, I like an amaryllis that blooms around Christmas, but there are others that blooms in the midst of winter. Several online specialty growers offer a large number of amaryllis in a variety of sizes, colors, styles, heights and bloom time.

There is a whole new world of winter-blooming Hippeastrum that has become synonymous with Christmas in the U.S. The fat, brown bulbs line big box stores, supermarkets, and florists’ shelves as early as mid-November. Some won’t bloom until February or even later, but others are cultivated to bloom for the Christmas holidays. They all have one thing in common: most people will call the flamboyant flowers Amaryllis.

Should you call these plants Hippeastrum or Amaryllis?

Confusion about the naming of this tropical bulb has been going on for centuries. The latest clarification comes from the 2004 book, Hippeastrum: the Gardener’s Amaryllis, by Veronica M. Read. She says that despite the extensive media coverage given to Hippeastrum in some Western European countries and in the United States since 1997, many breeders, growers, exporters, retailers and consumers continue to refer to the plant as an ‘amaryllis.’ ”

Without going into too much detail, Amaryllisoriginate in South Africa, while Hippeastrumcomes from South America. The bulbs we mistakenly call amaryllis are hybrids of the South American Hippeastrum.

Hadeco( is a South African grower of Hippeastrum, bred specifically for flowering during the winter holidays. According to Hadeco Director Charles Barnhoorn, “Southern Hemisphere Hippeastrum flower naturally in October, and thus will flower naturally in the months after that, once provided a little warmth.”

Worldwide, Barnhoorn says most varieties were developed for the cut flower trade and the majority of Hippeastrum bulbs are still used in that way. “The requirements between cut flower and container Hippeastrum are very different,” he explains. “For container-production, the varieties are shorter so as not to fall over in low-light (home) conditions; they’re more prolific and quicker to flower.”

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