Will the real Amaryllis please stand up?
by SCMG Bill Klausing
Wandering the Sonoma County roads during the late summer months of August and September, we notice that most of the summer’s green has started to lose its luster, and that the blooms seem to be fading in the heat of the afternoon rays. Just in time the Amaryllis leaps into view! You will find it in suburban lawns, manicured garden spaces and growing wild along country roads. Gardeners and other admirers refer to these little beauties by a variety of nicknames. “Naked ladies” is probably the most common, but “surprise lily” is also frequently used.
Amaryllis belladonna is a bulb and is native to our sister Mediterranean climate in South Africa; after being imported to this continent it has naturalized along much of the California coast. This species seems to have its own personality. It does not like to be disturbed. It takes a few years of neglect to become established and bloom. It can pop up in different locations within the same landscape during alternate years. Even our own Luther Burbank was enamored of Amaryllis belladonna. In an August 1905 article in Popular Science, he confessed to his own personal desire to create hybrids so that he could ‘put some clothes on the naked ladies’. You can find the result of his work at the Luther Burbank Garden in Santa Rosa where there is a bed of hybrid x Amarcrinum memoriacorsii which
he created by crossing a wild Crinum from the swamps of Florida with Amaryllis belladonna.
Amaryllis belladonna begins its growing season here in Sonoma County during the winter months, when the green strap-like leaves appear. Vegetative growth continues throughout the spring, but by the dry summer months, the leaves die back and the plant waits patiently for the end of the summer season to spend its stored energy by creating a burst of color. The floral stems rise from the ground as alien-looking creatures, but within a week, as many as a dozen pink to rose-colored blossoms adorn the top of each stem. These flowers are softly fragrant, and are terrific long-lasting cut flowers. The Amaryllis belladonna should not be confused with its cousins sold during the holiday season; though labeled Amaryllis, those South American members of the same family are actually the genus Hippeastrum. So take a leisurely drive along any dry valley road in Sonoma County in the months of August and September and you
are sure to see hundreds, if not thousands, of these gems.