"Amazing Amaryllids"

There are some dramatic bulbs from the Amaryllidaceae family which bloom in late winter/early spring in Sydney.
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.

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.

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.

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!

 Reader Comments

1/3  Sue t. - 2566 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 31 August 2009

I think your H. albiflos is a little out of season. Mine already has mature seeds from its flower and I am sure I have seen it blooming at the Bilpin Plant Fair in late April. Sue T.

Thanks, Sue. I did a bit more research and found that it is generally agreed that autumn is its usual season, as with the red species - mine is an aberration this year! Deirdre

2/3  Margaret - 2122 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Wednesday, 02 September 2009

Loved this blog, as the Amaryllids are one of my favourite plants. My Papilios are in full flower, and the two Scadoxus I have also have a flower each. One plant has never ever increased in the years I have had it. My white ones also flowered early - mid winter - these multiply rapidly!

Thanks, Margaret. My Scadoxus has been slow to multiply, but I noticed another bulb is developing beside the original one (after about three or so years); however, it is not big enough to flower yet. I collected seeds from last year's flower and planted them in summer - they have just sent up their first leaves, but I imagine it will be years till they bloom! Deirdre

3/3  Helen - 2154 (Zone:10 - Warm Temperate) Monday, 05 October 2009

Hi Deirdre, so enjoying your Blog, and benefitting from its content. I had a big pot of gorgeous red Hippeastrums, bloomed furiously each spring. Two years ago I divided them into the garden, keeping them shallow. They have sulked ever since! But I have had a cream Clivea - that took 8 years. Helen.

Thanks, Helen. I do think a lot of the bulbs from this family sulk when divided, but eventually they will come good. Congratulations on the cream Clivia - it must have been wonderful to see it bloom. Deirdre

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