The beautiful amaryllis, along with poinsettias, Norfolk Island pine, paper whites, Christmas cactus, and of course the Christmas tree, takes center stage at this season of the year. Many of you care for and store these bulbs year after year and bring it, or them, out with the other decorations and begin the yearly ritual so that you will have bloom as part of the Christmas celebration. Many of us purchase them to give as gifts to special people in our lives.
The amaryllis, like all plants, has a history, and wrapped around each one is either folklore or myths, or both. We humans are by nature storytellers, and because plants have such extraordinary natural beauty, many of them have become subjects of romance, mystery and fantasy.
A Greek myth tells us that Amaryllis was “a shepherdess who loved a shepherd possessing the strength of Hercules, and the beauty of Apollo. He was called Alteo, and he loved only flowers. He desired a woman who would bring him a new flower. Amaryllis, in an effort to capture his love, appeared at Alteo's door each night for thirty days, dressed in white. With each appearance she pierced her heart with a golden arrow. On her final appearance, Alteo at last opened his door to find a beautiful crimson flower, created from the blood of Amaryllis's heart.” (Meaning of an Amaryllis at www.gardenguides.com)
One bit of folklore is that the hybrid amaryllis, “St. Joseph's Staff,” which was introduced in the 16th century, received its name due to the legend that St. Joseph was chosen to become husband to the Virgin Mary after his staff sprouted amaryllis flowers during the selection process conducted by a high priest.
Although these stories are entertaining, the main reason for amaryllis's popularity has everything to do with the large showy red, or red and white, star-shaped blossoms that cheer us up at a time of year when our gardens are drab and colorless. Blooming plants in our homes not only help us celebrate our winter festivals, but they cheer us while we are waiting for the winter to pass.
For those of you who would like to own an amaryllis, here are some tips on how to keep them happy Christmas season after season:
•This bulb does not require a cold spell to be forced.
•Newly purchased bulbs should be kept in a cool, dry location with plenty of air circulation until they can be planted.
•Do not allow the bulb to freeze.
•If a container is not supplied with the bulb, choose one that is no more than 2 inches wider than the bulb as amaryllis likes to be pot bound. Most bulbs do well in a 4- or 6-inch pot.
•When purchasing a bulb, make sure it feels solid and firm and the leaf bud is swelling and even shows a bit of green.
•Settle the bulb in the container so that one-third of it is out of the soil.
•Drain holes are a must.
•Don't pour water over the neck of the plant but at the soil level.
•For more in-depth information go to www.rochestergardening.com/bulbs/amrylcar.html.
Jane Ford is an Advanced Master Gardener. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. This column is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.