ON THE ORIGIN OF AMARYGIAS
by Les Hannibal
Taken from a discussion on the IBS Bulb Robin

I have scratched my head for 50 years concerning the unknown 'Multiflora' parent that Bidwill used in 1841 to effect his initial 'A. x multiflora' cross. It definitely wasn't a Brunsvigia josephinae or B. orientalis. Five or six years back Marjut Rantanen-Burman at Pinnaroo, South Australia, found several huge bulbs at a long deserted farm. The large blossoms caught her attention, so she sent photos to the old Amaryllis Plant Society, with no answer! By luck, I received a set. She had obviously found a Bidwill F-1 and a white-flowered F-2 set of seedlings. An etching of the F-1 had been published in the "Horticultural Magazine of New South Wales," 1866, p 50, showing this cross. Her 'alba' F-2 photo showed a plant with 30-40 inch scapes bearing 50 or more blossoms on long pedicels. Their perianth-tubes were extremely short, 5 to 7 mm. in length, and the petals flared widely.

These were about 4 cm. long by 1 to 1.5 wide. She sent me a bulb of each. Thus far, they have not flowered and, with the attention given, tend to blast with a half dozen offsets each. Marjut is Finnish, so does not attempt to write in English. To date, does not have enough bulbs to sell specimens. One must remember Pinnaroo has no more than 8 inches (20 cm.) of rain a year, and that the bulbs existed for many years under such conditions, so they need similar culture with dry summers. I now believe my problem is root restrictions in the large pots used. Marjut reports that the bulbs refuse to set seed. Why?

Back around 1950 I crossed several Bidwill Multiflora hybrids from Australia with the 'Amaryllis x parkeri,' from Kew. They turned out to be sibling crosses, both by Bidwill. In both instances, the white-flowered seedlings are recessive throwbacks to a form near Bidwill's so-called original 'Brunsvigia multiflora.' For years I have compared my occasional long-pedicellated floral forms with various Brunsvigia types, particularly those various long-pedicellated, very short perianth-tubed blossom types. Numerous Nerine, one or two known Brunsvigias and some Cybistetes variants come close.

In general, on selfing the Bidwill 'Multiflora rosea' or 'A. parkeri,' one obtains 20 to 25% alba non-pigmented seed which yields the white-flowered multiflora alba seedlings. Occasionally, around one in 64 or more, a throwback seedling appears with 30 to 36 ten-inch (25 cm.) long pedicels and small well-flared blossoms with tepals 1 1/5 inch (3.5 cm.) long by 3/8th inch (1.5 cm.) wide. As mentioned, the perianth-tubes are very short, no more than 5 to 10 mm. in depth. These floral features duplicate those of Marjet's above described 'alba' form. So the inter-relationships are obvious. Unfortunately, she has not been able to obtain seed on either her F-1 and F-2 bulbs so we do not know if this is a climatic or genetic problem. We would like to cross these plants with various forms of Bidwill's Multifloras for more diversity. -- And obviously establish the identity of Bidwill's 'Brunsvigia multiflora.' Presumably these occasional long-pedicellated segregates are disclosing some silent genes from the original multiflora parent. Is it a Natal Brunsvigia, a Cybistetes variant, or some obscure sport?

In my experience inter-breeding Crinum, an occasional hybrid occurs which is semi-fertile, or, the hybrid's pollen will take on its parental forms and give a fertile race of seedlings. So, did Bidwill successfully backcross or self one of his numerous semi-fertile (?) F-1 hybrids? There are several abnormal possibilities. I suspect this, that the normal 'alba' and long pedicellated segregates contain some dominant 'A. belladonna' interchanged genes? It appears so and these are difficult to rid.

Note, the Marjut F-1 and F-2 bulbs are large, near 7 to 8 inches (17-20cm.) in diameter, spherical, and flattened with no neck. They require shallow planting. The foliage is sheathed in a leafy neck for 6 to 8 inches (15-20 cm.) in height, while the leaves are 40 inches (100 cm.) in length by 1 to 1 1/2 inches (2.5 - 3.5 cm.) width, and blunt tipped. The foliage tends to break over and spread out prone across the ground. I find no Brunsvigia which suggests such slender foliage, so Bidwill's 'Multiflora' remains quite an enigma. Eventually, when Marjut's bulbs come available, successful growth and flowering depends on a dry summer, shallow planting, deep rooting and not too much winter rain.

As for the hybrid 'Haythor' -- note the correct spelling!. It was developed by H. B. Bradley, a Sydney, N.S.W. barrister. The plant won an award of merit in 1911. A photograph of the original blossom is on file in the Sydney Botanical Garden's Herbarium. It is said to be a cross of a Bidwill 'Multiflora' with 'A. parkeri.' It produces pigment-free white seed on selfing which are often accepted as 'Haythor' too. However, the name applies to the original bulb, and is for the Egyptian god at Luxor.

Reference publications:

Plate of 'Haythor,' in RHS Jour 76: p. 392, t-186, 1951. Tim North's 'Australian Garden Journal,' July 1944, showing Marjut Rantanan-Burman's bulbs and history.

At the time, I was quite convinced that Bidwill's hybrids were Cybistetes due to the similarity of the 1866 'Horticulture Magazine' etching and several Cybistetes illustrations, including a painting in the 'Protected Wild Flowers of the Cape.'

First, regarding J. C. Bidwill. He was a very capable plantsman and self-trained botanist. Dr. D. J. Mabberley, at the University of Oxford, recently researched much of Bidwill's activities. He was only at the Botanical Gardens in Sydney for a few months. His first 'Multiflora' cross was made in 1841. A second was made at the MacArthur estate in Camden Park, N.S.W. where he had charge of the Arboretum. He was showing MacArthur's daughters how to hybridize Amaryllis belladonnas. One became Lady Parker and her bulbs become A. x parkeri. So when I crossed some Bidwill hybrids from Sydney with Kew's A. x parkeri, I found I had sibling hybrids. Both produced 20-25% white seed on selfing and intercrossing.

A number of Australian and South African bulb growers have obviously made Amarygia crosses, and considerable diversity exists, as Brunsvigia variants as well as A. belladonna variants exist, so the Amarygia hybrids show considerable diversity. None seem seed fertile, but Dr. Dave Symon of Waite Institute of So. Australia found that one Amargia's pollen on a certain A. belladonna would produce apogamic seedlings. In other words, the Brunsvigia gametes in the Amarygia pollen was partially functional and regenerated Brunsvigia parents forms in the A. belladonna seed pod! Obviously, I tried the same here with Bidwill's various pollens, but no luck. But I do get a few silent genes showing up with small, well-flared blossoms having unusually shallow perianth tubes. The seed foliage on sprouting is very slender, but slow to reach maturity.

Unfortunately, Kew and other English growers failed to recognize that the Bidwill multifloras and parkeri were related. The name in Australia back in 1870 was often 'Amaryllis baptisti rosea' and 'alba,' as John Baptist was raising the bulbs. There is one positive way to differentiate between Bidwill's multifloras and the Amarygia involving B. orientalis and josephinae, and that the latter two's full grown bulbs have pronounced conical necks, whereas Bidwill's is flush without a neck, but has a leafy column which dries up back to the flattened top. I wonder if Eric would check this feature on his B. littoralis x A. belladonna crosses.

Sincerely, Les Hannibal