Wednesday, November 12, 2008

An Amaryllis By Any Other Name...

Hippeastrum cybister. Yes, yes, I know. More weird plants. Why not just talk about good old-fashioned red Christmas amaryllis? (Yawn.) Or everyone's favorite, 'Appleblossom'? (Yawn.) Or that beautiful red-and-white striped one that Granny grew every year? (Yaaawwn.) Alright, alright. I'm being unfair. I'm sounding like I don't like the traditional, large-flowered Christmas amaryllis when really, I do. But y'all know about those. I'd rather tell you about an amaryllis that you might not be quite as familiar with, if at all--and that's Hippeastrum cybister, or the cybister amaryllis.

This is a species that is native to South America--Bolivia, specifically--and has, in the past decade or so, been used extensively in hybridizing. The bottom photograph above is a picture of the species. It's extremely narrow petals are a dominant characteristic and carry through to the offspring. By hybridizing this species with other, more colorful species, the breeders have brought us an astounding array of exotic-looking, almost orchid-like amaryllis (the top picture) that 20 years ago were nearly unheard of.

The cybister group, as they're often referred to, are just as easy to grow as their larger counterparts, but are smaller in every respect. Smaller bulbs, smaller flowers, and generally smaller in stature (which means little to no staking!) and they make the perfect subjects for tabletop or windowsills during the holiday season. The cybister types also tend to be evergreen, so even though you'll purchase them as dormant bulbs (no foliage), once you get them up and growing they should remain beautiful green houseplants year round.

As with all amaryllis, they like to be potbound, so don't overdo it on the size of the pot. They also don't like to be overwatered, especially when in bloom (true for almost all amaryllis), so don't get heavy-handed with the watering can. Generally speaking, I pot them up, soak them good one time to settle them into the pot and leave them the heck alone until the flower stalks are emerging well from the bulb. Even then I just keep them barely moist. They're still rooting in at this point and overwatering could well cause those tender new roots to rot!

Cybisters will multiply with some degree of abandon and, after a few years, you should have a nice pot full of bulbs. Leave them alone! They're pretty this way. Even if the bulbs start "stacking up" on each other, they'll be okay. In the wild, amaryllis tend to grow on rock cliffs and other such places, so they don't need a gigantic pot filled to the brim with over-rich potting soil. All they need is a place to hang on and get a little food and water from occasionally.
I'd recommend summering them outdoors in a semi-shaded spot. In summer, when they are actively growing, you can feed and water them like your other houseplants, but once they come back in for the winter you need to back off again.

One last word on amaryllis: bloom time. This will likely come as a shock to some of you, but Christmas is NOT their natural bloom time. Spring is. The bulbs you buy for forcing at Christmas are exactly that. Forced. This doesn't harm them, but in later years (assuming you keep them from year to year) they will flower at their normal bloom time in March and April and, generally speaking, not at Christmas. A word to the wise--you're better off to just enjoy them at their natural bloom time. Re-forcing them to flower at Christmas every year is somewhat difficult unless you are able to provide just the right conditions. I don't recommend it. Buy a new one each year and add to your collection. Let it be beautiful for the holidays and enjoy the rest of them as they welcome spring. I mean, the flowers aren't any less beautiful in March, right?

Happy Gardening!


Barbarapc said...

I'm growing (well, go ahead and yawn) Papillio this year. We have very few sources for unusual bulbs. Would love to try something different - do you have any sources that you could recommend?

Roses and Lilacs said...

Oh gosh, I feel so passe. I have the old fashioned red and the Apple Blossom--double whammy. Let me just say in defense of these two. Their large flowers make a huge statement blooming indoors. The ones in your photos are lovely, like oriental art, but I doubt they would make as big an impact in the house. Maybe if they were set against white walls.

I have come to the very same conclusion about bloom schedule. What a hassle to bring the plants indoors from their summer of freedom and try to get blooms that winter.

Thank you for showing us these rare and unusual varieties. They are indeed lovely.

Troy said...

No need for you to defend the old-fashioned ones. I still love them, too. Just trying to introduce folks to something new and unusual. They cybisters actually do put on a good show. They'll often produce as many as 6 stems of flowers and, with the hybrids, the colors are very vibrant. Yes, it's a totally different look, but no less showy.

Troy said...

Brent and Becky's Bulbs carries a variety called 'Emerald' that is a cybister-type. I also found a source at I have not done business with them, so I can't tell you about their quality, but they do list several varieties under their "Exotic" amaryllis listing--butterfly hybrids as well as cybisters.

Troy said...

P.S. I love papilio! I have one that's about 15 years old in a 16-inch diameter pot. It has never been divided. When it gets way too big for the pot it's in, I just move it up into the next size. It has about 20 bulbs on it now and has had as many as 34 stalks of blooms on it in a really good year. No yawning about that! And no yawning about any of them, really, I was just being facetious and making a point.

Wicked Gardener said...

I LOVE amaryllis, especially the exotic looking ones. Stokes Tropicals has had some that I've wanted to try.

Phillip said...

Okay, you've sold me. I wasn't familiar with this amaryllis but I want one now. Very striking.

Mother Nature's Garden said...

Hey, Troy,
Glad to see another Tennessee gardener. Welcome. I love the unusual amaryllis.

Zoƫ said...

I love them all too, although my current favourite is one called 'Black Pearl', it's almost irridescent.