Pot Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

We were snowed in all of last week, on our rural property with its long, long driveway at the bottom of a steep hill. No use taking chances: we stayed home. There was plenty of food. The power stayed on (mostly), and even when it did go off, the airtight fireplace kept us warm. With perfect timing, the Amaryllis I potted up in the fall came into bloom, and provided a spot of colour on the windowsill. Outside, the landscape was entirely monochromatic.

Amaryllis was a shepherdess in the Idylls of Theocritus. Virgil used the name for a shepherdess who appears in his pastoral “Eclogues” (“I used to wonder, Amaryllis, why / You cried to heaven so sadly, and for whom / You left the apples hanging on the trees”).

However, the plant on my windowsill, while commonly called “Amaryllis”, is not entitled to that name. In 1987, the 14th International Botanical Congress decided that “Amaryllis” would be the name given to another plant, a South African native, while the South American plant (and its hybrids) would be called “Hippeastrum”. The confusion over names persists, and when I did a search on “Amaryllis”, hoping to find a source for a true Amaryllis, Amaryllis belladonna, every bulb advertised as “Amaryllis” was, in fact, Hippeastrum.

At first, I was disappointed by this information. “Amaryllis” is a beautiful name, while “Hippeastrum” sounds like something involving a sixties folk musician. Fortunately, as I continued with my research, the name started to become more interesting to me. The origin of the name begins with the Greek word for horse (“hippos”). Think of the hippopotamus, whose name means “river horse”.

Carolus Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), confronted with the task of naming the flamboyant South American species, chose the name Amaryllis equestris. We don’t know why he chose this name, but William Curtis, commented in “Curtis’s Botanical Magazine” in 1795 on the two bracts (or spathes) surrounding the buds, which “standing up at a certain period of the plant’s flowering like ears, give to the whole flower a fancied resemblance of a horse’s head.”
The origin of “Hippeastrum” is given in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary as “fr. Gk hippeus horseman (fr hippos) + astron star; fr. the equitant leaves and the star-shaped flowers,” thus the common name “Knight’s Star Lily”. So, we’ve managed to come round to something quite lovely and romantic again. I’m more than satisfied with this connection to knights, stars and horses (see my post, Garden Ornaments).
The meanings of Hippeastrum in the language of flowers are pride, splendid beauty or timidity. Timidity? They must be talking about the other Amaryllis.

Study of Hippeastrum, watercolour

“I Used to Wonder”, watercolour, 7″ x 9-1/4″

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10 thoughts on “Pot Amaryllis (Hippeastrum)

  1. Your posts are so interesting to me, Mrs. Daffodil. So much fascinating information. I especially enjoyed your examination of the names.
    Datura plants were also, a few years ago, reclassified, into datura proper and Brugmansia. I’ve only ever seen Brugmansia in these parts.
    I love your watercolours. Such delicacy.

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    • Datura and Brugmansia: one has flowers pointing up, the other down. I can never remember which is which. Both are toxic (creepy spooky lovely nice).

      Thanks for loving my watercolours. You know I’m a fan of yours, too.

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      • Brugmansia is the tree one with pendulous blooms, the only kind I’ve ever seen, Datura ‘proper’ is more shrub-like and from the pictures I’ve seen the blooms poke out every which way.
        Creepy, spooky, lovely, nice indeed! 😉

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  2. I enjoyed this whole post, the meanderings through plant names and poesy, the lovely shot of the amaryllis brightening the snowy life, and then the beautiful watercolors. They reminded me that I will “someday” learn to paint in watercolor. Given the franticness of my life, I decided about 5 years ago that it would be the project I would devote myself to in my retirement years, when I would have time to take lessons. Meanwhile, I love looking at them.

    Yours remind me very much of the Chinese watercolors I saw on exhibit at the University of Alaska when they were traveling through. I love the luminous quality of the first one, the way the overlap of paint accurately shows how the blossoms look when you look at them with light behind them.

    Thank you for making my day brighter and more beautiful.

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    • It’s feedback like this that keeps me painting (and blogging). Thank you so much. I’ve been enjoying your travel photos: they’ve helped me get through these cold, wet days. Hope I can make that trip myself someday.

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