Amazing Amaryllids

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Hippeastrum papilio in the garden of Alida Gray in Sydney

Last week when visiting a friend, I admired her magnificent display of Hippeastrum papilio, which were in full bloom: huge white trumpet flowers strongly marked with burgundy and a little lime. I recalled she had given me an offshoot of her bulbs a few years ago, and when I got home and inspected my pot I found a plump bud - my first ever - which was a thrill. Hippeastrum belong to the Amaryllidaceae family of bulbs, many of which originate in warm places in the world, and on the whole they do very well in Sydney gardens. In late winter and early spring, there are several of them decorating our gardens.

Hippeastrum (ht 60cm) - hailing from South America - have been much hybridised and come in many colours, including red, pink and white, often with contrasting stripes. They can be grown in the ground (not planted too deep) in decent, well-drained soil in full sun or part shade. They can also be grown in pots.

Scadoxus puniceus

Another member of the family is South African Scadoxus puniceus (ht 45cm), which is breathtaking at the moment. A stout spotted stem arises amidst upright fleshy leaves in early August with a large, tight red bud: in late August this opens to reveal an amazing bloom like an enormous orange paintbrush, surrounded by outer red bracts. The mass of stamens reminds me of one of those filament lamps from the 1970s, as each stamen is tipped in luminous orange. The flower lasts for ages and even in decline it is attractive - large red berries eventually form, which can be used to propagate the bulb. It has a few common names, including the paintbrush lily or snake lily.

Clivia with pendulous blooms - ?C. Cyrtanthiflora Group in the Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney

This bulb doesn't mind being grown in part-shaded sites and mixes very well with some of the other brightly coloured flowers of late winter and early spring, such as Justicia rizzinii, Clivia (which are also members of the Amaryllidaceae family and do extremely well in shaded garden spots in Sydney gardens), Abutilon and red Camellia japonica. Scadoxus puniceus is sometimes mistaken for South African Haemanthus coccineus, which it resembles; however, the leaves are different in the Haemanthus, lying flat on the ground, and it flowers at a different time of year.

Haemanthus albiflos

Several weeks ago, however, I had flowers on a white Haemanthus, a species known as Haemanthus albiflos (ht 20-30cm) - I am not sure whether it was blooming out of season! These were like shaving brushes dipped in white paint, though on a smaller scale than the Scadoxus. This bulb also grows in shade, and mine is nearby a white-variegated form of Acanthus mollis, which is starting to develop fresh new leaves at the moment that echoed the flower well.

These unusual bulbs add interest to the late winter/early spring garden in Sydney!