By Patricia Jordan
Commonly known as Amaryllis, this showy bulb hails from South Africa and is often given as a gift around Christmas time. In warm climates, hippeastrum can be grown outdoors successfully but usually it is regarded as an indoor plant. Compared to other members of the bulb family, the actual bulb is huge. In the wild, the large trumpet-like flowers are usually red or purple but much interbreeding had taken place over many years to produce other colours with attractive stripes and graduations of colour. The long, broad, fleshy leaves appear after the tall flower stems, which support the heavy flower heads of anything up to 15 flower heads. The stems are hollow and can grow to over 50cm in some cases.
The bulbs may have started to sprout flower stems in their packages, so take great care when removing them. These very large bulbs like to be cosy in their pots, with just a finger’s space between the edge of the bulb and the side of the pot. Using multi-purpose potting compost, place the bulb so that its ‘head and shoulders’ are above the earth. Do not water too much, but while the flower stems are growing, turn the pot regularly so that the flowers do not lean over to the light. Growth can be fast and the plant may need some staking.
Once the lovely flowers have gone over, remove the dead heads and stem, and feed with a balanced (all the same numbers) fertiliser weekly, which will encourage the leaves to continue to grow, helping to make the flower for next season. Place the plant in a cool position and stop watering at the end of the summer, and the leaves will die down. After six weeks or so, you can resume watering and feeding. Hippeastrum plants probably need to be re-potted every two or three years after flowering.