What is Amaryllis?

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Amaryllis is an ornamental perennial that produces large bell-shaped flowers. Named from the Greek amarysso to mean ‘sparkle,’ it is also known as Jersey Lily, Belladonna Lily, and collectively as Naked Ladies when found grouped together. It is also a monotypic genus, meaning it contains a single species — in this case Amaryllis belladonna. However, it should not be confused with hippeastrum, a popular blooming plant sold during the winter holiday season that belongs to the same family.

A pH test. Amaryllis should be planted in soil with a pH level of 6 to 6.8.
A pH test. Amaryllis should be planted in soil with a pH level of 6 to 6.8.

While this plant is native to South Africa, it thrives in some regions of the southern and western US, where it is often planted in flower gardens. However, in less temperate climates, amaryllis can be grown as a potted plant, indoors or out. In fact, since its bulb is one of the easiest to force bloom, it is often grown indoors in colder climates.

This plant is prized for its stunning flowers. While most range in color from white to pink and red, there are also hybrids available that offer a larger variety of bloom colors, as well as striped or multicolored flowers. These plants bloom prolifically, sometimes producing as many as a dozen flowers on a single stem. After 7 to 10 weeks of flowering, it’s possible to force a second bloom from the same plant. If carefully maintained, a single bulb is capable of continuing to produce flowers for as long as 75 years.

In the garden, amaryllis bulbs should be planted in composted soil with good drainage in late fall or early spring. You may also store bulbs up to six weeks in a cool, dark place, such as a refrigerator. However, never store the bulbs in a refrigerator with apples or sterilization of the bulbs will occur. Once the bulbs are planted in the ground, you can expect blooming to occur within eight weeks.

Once in the ground, water bulbs lightly until new growth emerges, and then gradually give more water. At this point, the application of a low nitrogen fertilizer will ensure the best blooms. Plants should be fertilized a second time when stems reach 6 to 8 inches (15.24 to 20.32 centimeters) in height and a final time once the blooms are spent and deadheaded.

When forcing bulbs indoors, plant them in a soil mixed with equal parts of compost, sand, and loam. Since amaryllis prefers a slightly acidic environment, the soil mix should have a pH between 6.0 and 6.8. This plant also prefers to be a bit root bound, so choose a container relevant to bulb size. Generally speaking, the container should be about four inches (10.16 centimeters) in diameter. In addition, amaryllis prefers a southern exposure.

Karyn Maier
Karyn Maier

Contributing articles to wiseGEEK is just one of Karyn’s many professional endeavors. She is also a magazine writer and columnist, mainly for health-related publications, as well as the author of four books. Karyn lives in New York’s Catskill Mountain region and specializes in topics about green living and botanical medicine.

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Discussion Comments


@Pippinwhite -- I've seen some red and white striped amaryllis in the garden centers, and they are stunning. They look like peppermint candy. I'm going to give them a try myself when I see some I like this year. My yard could use some sprucing up.


My mom has red amaryllis in her backyard. It is really beautiful and they multiply! I'm going to divide hers and put some in my yard, too. They're so lovely, and they don't require a ton of care. They just come up every late spring and bloom like crazy for a couple of weeks.

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