Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society London 1904-1905 29:86-90
Something about Hippeastrums
By Dr. E. Bonavia F.R.H.S.

When I took up the cultivation of Hippeastrums in this country some six or seven years ago, I procured a number of bulbs from Lucknow [India], Holland, France and England. When they flowered I gave them names, and crossed them promiscuously in order to get quantity. They were all more or less of the varieties we see at shows, but of course not so select.

The object of getting bulbs from these different countries was the hope of some new variation turning up from these different strains, but so far those that have flowered have been somewhat disappointing, as nothing startling has yet appeared, though some have been very fine. I have over two thousand seedlings of all ages. A number of the first crosses have flowered. I kept record of their parentage, and of their form and colour, &c., but many of the tickets, being of wood, have been lost.

However, I have up to date a record of 114 of my own seedlings, and I give herewith a list of them. As I knew the names of their parents I could easily note the likeness of either parent, or to both, or otherwise, and also wrote a short description of each as it came into flower. Those of which I had lost the tickets are of course left out of this reckoning.

For the sake of brevity, I shall call the seed parent the “mother,” and the pollen parent the “ father.” Thus:

55 took after the mother;
19 took after the father;
13 rather after the mother;
5 rather after the father;
5 took after both parents;
3 took after neither parent;
3 after the mother, but with modifications;
1 mostly after the mother, but with the father influence;
5 had the colour of the mother, but the form of the father;
4 had the colour of the father, but the form of the mother;
1 had the form of the father, but the colour was different from that of both parents.

Total 114

It will be seen that the preponderance of the mother’s or seed-bearers influence was great; for

55 gave flowers much like their mother’s;
13 gave them rather like their mother’s;
3 rather like the mother’s, though with some modification.


That is, in 71 out of 114 the influence of the mother was conspicuous

It should be noted that the results I am recording were of crosses between Hippeastrums of the same species that we see at shows. But many of the attempted crosses had no result; that is, the ovules were not fertilized, and the ovary perished. They behaved very much as if no attempt had be made between different genera, or as if no fertilization had been attempted.

It is not easy to decide whether these 71 results were crosses at all, for they did not show any sign of inheritance from the father’s side. The father’s pollen may have simply stimulated the ovary and ovules into action without entering into composition with the materials of the ovules. The ovules may in these cases have been mere bulbils, or carpel buds.

Hyacinth growers, it is said, scoop out the bottom of the mother bulb, which process gives rise to the growth of small bulbils from the edges of the cut scales. The bulbils when grown to the flowering stage usually inherit the characteristics of the mother bulb. We have never been told, however, whether any sports occur among these offspring bulbils of Hyacinths.

Orchid hybridisers have noted that in their crossings the result is not infrequently identical with the mother flower. So not impossibly the Hippeastrum crosses, which have resulted in the repetition of the mother’s characteristics, may, after all, have been what are called "false crosses."

Of course, in those cases where any inheritance of the father's characteristics has occurred, we must infer that the father’s part has been duly performed. In nineteen of my recorded cases the mother’s influence appeared to have been wiped out, as the flowers resembled the pollen-bearer.

I have never seen an ovary whose pistil had not been pollinated grow into activity; it always perishes, and in many cases it perishes in spite of the pollination.

When any variation occurs which does not suggest any influence of the father, although the flower may not be identical with that of the mother, the variation may possibly be the result of sport, such as might occur from cuttings or seeds of any plant. So that it is next to impossible to determine whether the variation resulted from the father's influence or from some other unknown cause.

In a comparatively few case the cross has inherited the colour only of the mother, while the form came from the father, or vice versa.

I have obtained some bulbs of Hippeastrum equestre, which I believe originally came from Barbados.

The pollen of those that I have, which are rather difficult to flower, I have often tried on the stigma of ordinary Hippeastrums, but without result. This year, however, I succeeded in obtaining from this cross seven apparently good seeds in an imperfectly developed pod, five of which have germinated.

In India I obtained some fine results from crosses with H. equestre, and bulbs obtained from these, when flowered, showed unmistakable signs of features derived from that species. Their petals were not striped or feathered, but of one colour with a central equestrian star.

The stigmas of H. equestre and that of Sprekelia are identical to look at, and yet quite different from the stigmas of Hippeastrums we see at shows. I tried experiments between these two, but without result.

I have a strong plant which originally came with the name Amaryllis robusta. I have beem informed that it is only an inferior form of Hippeastrum aulicum, and that H. robustum is one of its synonyms.

I have often tried to cross this H. robustum with my ordinary Hippeastrums, and reversed the cross, but without success.

Last year, however, I obtained thirteen apparently plump seeds from this cross, eleven of which have germinated, and are thriving plants in their second year.

I succeeded in effecting five different crosses between the ordinary Hippeastrum pollinated with H. pardinum. The pollen of this spotted Hippeastrum took very readily the first time I tried it in 1903, resulting in five full pods with numerous plump seeds. Now I have a large number of this cross thriving in their second year.

In 1901 I thought I would try other pollens of Amaryllids on the Hippeastrum stigma. I obtained several full pods from different plants of Hippeastrum with the pollen of Clivia miniata. Many attempts with this pollen failed; but I obtained three pods, one of which contained sixty plump seeds; the other two had less. A very large proportion germinated, and now of that year’s Clivia crossings I have a batch of strong healthy bulbs into their fourth year.

Then, in 1902, I obtained three more pods of this cross. My difficulty is to find accommodation for them all, a large number having germinated, which are going into their third year.

In the Gardeners' Chronicle of April 5, 1902, p. 230, it was stated that Mr. Chapman (Captain Holford’s gardener), Westonbirt, near Tetbury, had effected a cross between these two genera, and that some were about to flower. I was very much interested in this, as I already effected a similar cross. We have not heard, however, what the result has been of Mr. Chapman’s cross.

The cross between the Hippeastrum and the Clivia was surprising enough, but I have to relate two more crosses between genera, which are still more astonishing.

In 1902 I obtained two full pods of Hippeastrum crossed with the pollen of Ixiolirion tataricum; a large majority of the plump seeds germinated, and are thriving and strong plants, going into their third year.

The next cross sounds ridiculous, for in 1902 I obtained a full pod of Hippeastrum crossed with the pollen of the ‘Emperor’ daffodil! The seeds germinated well, and have made strong bulbs, going into their third year.

Now I have to record a curious result of crossing the Hippeastrum.

Year after year I tried to fertilise the Hippeastrum with the pollen of Sprekelia formosissima. I failed, the fertilized ovary invariably perished; so did the ovary of the Sprekelia crossed with the pollen of the Hippeastrum.

But in 1903 I repeated the trial, and two ovaries of Hippeastrum so fertilised began to grow, and I began to fill my mind with the hope that at last I had succeeded in effecting this difficult cross. Finally the pod ripened and burst, showing the interior full of the usual black seeds. I took out the seeds and spread them on a sheet of paper, and lo and behold, not one of them had an embryo in it! They were all chaff. Now what was the fun of this trick on the part of the Hippeastrum and Sprekelia?—the ovary, on the application of the pollen, swelling, and making believe that it is going to be full of seed, and when it bursts it is nothing but chaff. Such make-believes must often occur in nature, when an insect visits one flower after another of different genera, and dust the stigmas with different pollens; but there is nobody to record such interesting tricks.

Of course none of the chaffy seeds germinated.

Then, in 1904, I repeated the attempt to cross these two Amaryllids. Many failed outright; two resulted in the same phenomenon of ripening their pods and containing nothing but chaff; another had apparently five good seeds amongst the chaff, none of which germinated; yet another seeemed to have three good seeds, which failed to germinate.

Finally a Hippeastrum bore two pods which had also been fertilized by the Sprekelia pollen; and I am glad to say that this curious make-believe ceased in this case. One of the pods had forty-five apparently good seeds, of which twenty-one germinated; the other had what appeared to be twenty good seeds, of which five have germinated.

They are all in their young first blade, and may not survive their dormancy for this cross is a weak one; but perseverance year after year has at last been crowned with some seeds that have germinated.

If I were asked “what do you expect to get out of these crosses?” I would say “Nothing but Hippeastrums!” For my experience has been that, even when Hippeastrum is crossed with Hippeastrum, if the thing takes, the prepotency of the mother-factor wipes out the pollen-factor, and in bigeneric crosses, when they succeed, the prepotency of the mother-factor is likely to be even greater. All the individuals of these bigeneric crosses have the foliage of the Hippeastrum; and so, I think, will be their flowers.

In “Indian Planting and Gardening” a writer, signing himself as "G.C.O.," from Mussoorie on September 20, 1898, declared that he had succeed in crossing the Hippeastrum with the pollen of the Sprekelia. He says, "I have secured the intense colour of the Sprekelia in the form of the Hippeastrum. I may mention that not one plant on the whole collection is in the form of the Sprekelia."

Yet, when I was in Florence many years ago, I visited the Giardino Santarelli, famous for its Camellia bushes. The gardener also grew the Amaryllis, or Hippeastrum, as it is now called. The owner showed me a coloured drawing of one of his Amaryllises. It had exactly the form of the Sprekelia, with broad petals of a white colour, slashed and veined crimson. He kindly gave me a copy of that coloured drawing, which I posted to the “Garden,” but I do not think that it was ever reproduced in that journal. Perhaps that drawing may still be among the archives of the “Garden,” if it ever reached its editor.

The plant itself was not then in flower. The drawing, however, was very beautiful and unique.

The Hippeastrum very often has on its face the stamp of having been evolved from a Sprekelia-like ancestry.

The flower consists of three outer (often called sepals) and three inner petals. The three upper ones (one outer and two inner) are similarly coloured and striped, and are curved upwards. The lower three (two outer and one inner, usually smaller) are very often differently marked, and they often project forwards like a shovel. The two outer and lower ones, as broad as the upper three, are often only marked in their upper half, while the lower half may not be marked at all. The smaller and lower petal is often only faintly marked.

Of course modern florists have been endeavouring to make a regular flower of the Hippeastrum, with all the petals of equal breadth, and all equally marked. They would succeed much better, I think, if they could evolve a flower looking upwards, like the modern form of Gloxinia; such a form not improbably was the original one from which the modern one, looking sideways, may have resulted by heavy insect agency. The position of the stamens and pistil, resting on the lower and usually smaller petal, with the different markings of the three lower petals, would indicate that our modern Hippeastrum came from a Sprekelia-formed ancestor.

We would have then something like the following life-history of our modern Hippeastrum. First, it was a regular flower looking upwards; second, it was made to look sideways by insect agency, which gave it a somewhat Sprekelia form; and third, the florists are endeavoring to turn it into a regular flower again, with this difference, that they wish to keep it facing sideways, as in a pot on the stage of a glass-house the beauty of its flowers can be more easily seen. But Hippeastrums are not always grown in pots. In Lucknow I grew them in the ground under the shade of trees, and in Ceylon I have seen them growing in the open border.

Taking everything into consideration with regard to these bigeneric crosses, there may be perhaps a faint chance that some of them may inherit the colour, if not the form, of the male plant.

“Nothing can be known without trying,” and time will show whether among a lot of prospectively “false hybrids” something new may not turn up.

The crossed plants are all Amaryllids: this is, in Darwinian phraseology, they have descended from a common stock, during the ages through which they have existed.

I believe, according to Mendel’s law, crossings, at first, mostly take after the mother. But if these are again self-fertilised, their progeny may split up into the two original parent forms. Unfortunately, I have not life enough left to carry out these experiments further.

Mr. C. R. Fielder stated in the “Gardeners’ Chronicle” of April 30, 1904, that it took him from 1893 to 1904, that is about eleven years, to evolve a wholly white Hippeastrum. In reality it is not a pure white one, but a creamy white. I have had Hippeastrums of a milk-white ground, feathered crimson. If some one, as indefatigable as Mr. Fielder, were to take these up and endeavor to eliminate the coloured feathering, he might succeed in producing a Hippeastrum of a whiteness as pure as that of the Lilium candidum.

A lifetime is scarcely long enough to carry out these experiments to a satisfactory conclusion and with scientific accuracy.

The Gardeners' Chronicle April 27, 1907

OUR SUPPLEMENTARY ILLUSTRATION.—It would seem as if the process of "improvement" could no further go in the matter of the florists' Hippeastrum. In the magnificent strains exhibited by Major HOLFORD, Messrs. VEITCH & SONS, and Messrs. KER, of Liverpool, we seem, as far as number of flowers, their size, form, and colour are concerned, to have reached a stage when, however much variety in colour may be obtained, yet but little novelty can be expected, It is, therefore, desirable that new blood be introduced so as to extend the limits of variation. To this end Dr. BONAVIA has been experimenting by crossing H. pardinum with an ordinary florists' Hippeastrum. The result is illustrated in our supplementary plate, and is decidedly promising. The colour is white profusely spotted with carmine. Even the midribs of the perianth-segments are profusely spotted. The spike bore four flowers and was produced before the leaves. Several seedlings were raised from the same cross, but this was the most heavily spotted.