The genus Hippeastrum (pronounced "hip-ee-ASS-trum") is native to sub-tropical and tropical areas of South America and the Caribbean. The name is formed from two Greek words referring to "cavalry" and "star." It is theorized that the man who named it in 1837, the Reverend William Herbert, was thinking that the flower resembled a weapon used by medieval knights. Though the plants are of the Amaryllidacea (pronounced "am-uh-ril-id-AY-see-ee") family, Hippeastrum are incorrectly called "amaryllis." True Amaryllis are members of a separate genus.
Commercial bulb growers in the Netherlands noticed them and began developing them shortly after they were discovered. The cultivars developed there are known as Dutch Hippeastrum or Dutch Amaryllis. In the 1940s, a couple of Dutch growers moved their operations to South Africa and began developing them there. Unfortunately, South African Hippeastrum are not as widely available as the Dutch cultivars, but they are every bit as beautiful.
Commercial hippeastrum cultivation is no longer confined to Holland and South Africa; growers in other countries have begun their own development programs.
Hippeastrum are easily grown indoors. Because they are readily available in fall and early winter, they are very popular as gift items during the Christmas season.
Growing them indoors is a snap. Obtain good quality bulbs. The larger ones will produce the most flowers and be much more satisfying. Select planting containers with good drainage that are 6" to 8" deep, and wide enough to allow 1" to 1-1/2" of space around the bulbs. Hippeastrum do well when pot-bound. Potting soil should be peat-based and blended with perlite for good drainage. Plant each bulb in the center of its pot with one third of the bulb exposed above the soil level. Water thoroughly and allow to drain.
It is not necessary to feed the bulb at planting time; many popular brands of potting soil already contain small amounts of fertilizer. When the last flowers fade, feed the plant every two or three weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer or slow-release bulb fertilizer. Always follow label instructions.
Watering at planting time should be the last time you do so until the flower stem begins to appear. Then resume watering and keep the soil slightly moist. Irrigating once every week to ten days should suffice. Slowly pour water around the bulb into the soil. If grown indoors, the room temperature should be maintained at 70 to 75 degrees. A cool room temperature will extend the bloom period. Plenty of indirect light is necessary; southern exposure is best.
When spring arrives and danger of cold weather is past, move your plant outdoors. You may keep the pot on a porch or patio, or submerge it somewhere in your garden. Submerging it will relieve you of watering as frequently. Avoid direct sun during the heat of the day.
Sometime around late summer to early fall, the plant will begin to slip into dormancy. Cut back on watering and fertilizing. If your area is experiencing a lot of rainfall, bring the pot indoors. When the foliage has yellowed and dried, trim it off.
Every couple of years or so, you may want to remove the dormant bulb from its pot and inspect it for fungus or insect damage. If the damage is not severe, trim off affected material and dust with an appropriate fungicide according to label instructions. Store the bulb in a cool, dark area with good air circulation. The parent bulb may have produced smaller ones from the base. They can be separated and planted in their own pots.
The normal period of dormancy lasts for a little over six weeks. The bulb may signal that its dormancy is completed when it begins to produce a new flower spike. If it doesn't, watering it once again and bringing it into the light may induce a new growth cycle.
Hippeastrum were not discovered growing in pots somewhere in Brazil. They were in the ground. So you should be able to grow them in your garden if you live in a warm climate. USDA climate zones 8 through 11 have hospitable climates. Plant the bulbs in partial shade and well-drained soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. The shoulders of the bulbs should be exposed above the soil surface just as those planted in pots. The large bulbs used for forcing can be planted outdoors after blooming. But if you want to plant more than a couple, purchase the smaller, less expensive garden bulbs when they become available in spring.
Hippeastrum will delight you. Their large flowers and bold, strap-like foliage brighten any room or garden with tropical elegance.
Return to Hippeastrum at goGardenNow.com.