Herbertia 52: 168-178 (1997)
Charles Hardman
Baldwin Park, Southern California

Hippeastrums, which most Americans still call amaryllis, have enjoyed waves of enormous popularity throughout their culture. It's no wonder: They are powerfully beautiful when in flower and architecturally beautiful when in leaf.

Hippeastrums have enjoyed several peaks of enthusiasm during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Hippeastrum reginae was introduced into cultivation in 1728. Its most popular hybrid, H. x johnsonii (H. reginae x H. vittatum), is considered by J. G. Baker to be the first hybrid among Hippeastrum species. This cross, made originally in 1799 by a watchmaker of Prescot in Lancashire whose name was Johnson, is still widely grown throughout the world. Forms of H x johnsonii, its children and grandchildren down to the nth generation are so widely observed in springtime blooming in yards throughout Southern California that one would almost think it a native of the area. Fortunately, H. reginae itself, while not tough as nails, is one of the heartier species and it passes on its strength and resistance to cool temperatures to its progeny along with much of its awe-inspiring beauty.

By 1830 about 100 Hippeastrum crosses had been made and given Latin names. Since then and in spite of occasional lulls, hybridizing within this incredible genus has never stopped.

The early part of the current century brought wide experimentation in hybridizing as modern breeders built on the work done in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by earlier hybridizers. From the 1930's through the 1960's, massive, rounded flowers and self colors were in vogue among hippeastrum connoisseurs. Often, these were exhibited at local flower shows. Few plant enthusiasts can resist the beauty of hippeastrums, so it's not surprising that work went on in various parts of the world -The Netherlands, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the United States. But it was in The Netherlands and South Africa that many of the most famous cultivars were developed. Throughout the world the names "Dutch Hybrid amaryllis" and "South African Hybrid amaryllis" are synonymous with quality, beauty, vigor and ease of bloom.

The 1970's saw a trend towards more flower scapes per bulb, tough cultivars that would flower even if you left them in a paper bag without the benefits of planting and a spin-off movement toward smaller, daintier flowers. This latter movement never quite took hold, the public's demand for the huge washing over it like a tsunami. Nevertheless, some worthy smaller cultivars still surface occasionally and 'Scarlet Baby'—also called Gracilis Dulcinea—is still very much in evidence in the dry bulb trade.

The 1980's brought us a lessening of interest in growing hybrids and an increasing interest in species cultivation. Interest in the cultivation of Hippeastrum species continues to this day, as the International Bulb Society's autumn, 1996 sale of Hippeastrum species from the Doran Amaryllid collection showed. But sources of species supply are seriously depleted throughout much of South America. Even thirty years ago collectors such as Leonard Doran saw these sources drying up. A Hippeastrum plant which flowers in the wild and is seen by a local inhabitant is almost certainly doomed, for it is the custom among the locals throughout much of South America to dig up the entire plant, bulbs and all, and take it to a market where the digger may possibly have a chance to sell it for the few pennies it will bring.

The period from the late 1980's into the early 1990's saw interest in hippeastrums wane somewhat but the latter part of our current decade is producing a revival of sorts along with several trends worth mentioning.

Three of the general trends I've noticed lately is a burgeoning of interest in Hippeastrum hybridizing by professionals and amateurs alike along with an increasing desire to grow the species and a parallel effort on the part of some enthusiasts to rescue older cultivars from oblivion and to grow and propagate them for future generations. All of these endeavors are important not only to the present but to the future of this lusciously flamboyant genus.

Hippeastrum hybridizers are having a field day. Here are some of the current directions they're taking their work.


Yellow hippeastrums have been with us for quite a while, although they're just now beginning to be seen more often in catalogs and in private collections.

Four Hippeastrum species are yellow. They are:

H. aglaiae—a pale yellow, really more of a cream color;
H. anzoldoi—lemon yellow, at times it almost seems to have a hint of blue (some taxonomists consider this a form of H. evansiae but others feel there are sufficient differences to qualify it as an unique species);
H. evansiae—chartreuse yellow to creamy yellow, quite variable, nearly always has some pink and, in fact, some forms have a lot of pink;
H. parodii—yellow leaning towards chartreuse.

Yellow hippeastrum hybrids also have been with us for quite a while. Two of the best I've ever seen were spotted growing in their pots in a plunge pit full of sawdust at the University of Southwest Louisiana at Lafayette, Louisiana. They were hybrids which had emerged from the late Dr. Ira S. Nelson's hippeastrum hybridizing program. Dr. Harold Koopowitz, Dr. Ken Mann, Fred Meyer and I rented a car and took a side trip up to the University during the American Plant Life Society's 1986 Symposium in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. (As the result of a later name change the APLS became this Society, the International Bulb Society.) We went for the specific purpose of seeing Dr. Nelson's Hippeastrum collection which was blooming at the time.

Once we arrived at the Hippeastrum plunge pit containing Dr. Nelson's hybrids, there were many good flowers blooming from the cultivars growing in their pots. The two yellow cultivars were spectacular, large flowers combined with fairly good yellow coloring, a deeper hue in one than in the other. I doubt either of these yellows was introduced.

The late Charles "Dee" Cothran also worked with yellow hippeastrums. In an article titled "Quest for Large, Yellow Hippeastrums" Dee mentions a hybrid called 'Chatterbox' (presumably his own) and a later hybrid (definitely his own) which he called 'Yellow Pioneer'. What happened to 'Chatterbox' I don't know.

As for 'Yellow Pioneer', that's another matter altogether. One day I spotted a yellow hippeastrum in a flower catalog. It was called 'Yellow Pioneer' and it looked like the hippeastrum of the same name which Dee had entered at a local amaryllis show. I called Dee and discovered during our conversation that he had never been approached about propagation rights and was surprised to learn that 'Yellow Pioneer' was in commercial production.

Dee Cothran never received so much as a penny in royalties for his hybridizing work on 'Yellow Pioneer'. Moral: If you hope to make money from your hybridizing work, curb your generosity.

I have grown 'Yellow Pioneer'. It likes more heat than I give it in my (largely) unheated greenhouse and, under my conditions, tends to break up by diverting its energies away from flower production and into smaller and smaller bulbs and bulblets.

There's also a new yellow variety available commercially called 'Lemon-Lime'. This one is milky-chartreusey cream in color, perhaps a bit less yellow for me than 'Yellow Pioneer'. My medium-sized bulb produced three tall flower scapes with six, four and four flowers. ('Lemon-Lime' has the odd characteristic of producing a dimple, sort of a little pucker or pit, in many of its segments. Where that comes from, I don't know.)

Amaryllis, Inc., [see Source List, page 193] carries two new yellow cultivars, 'Yellow Queen' and 'Yellow Trumpet'. I have not grown either of these cultivars but they do sound interesting. No doubt there are other yellow hippeastrums available and probably more in the works being readied for future introduction.

'Yellow Pioneer' and 'Lemon-Lime' mark progress in yellow hippeastrum hybridizing. More progress needs to be made so this is either a wide-open field for people interested in working toward outstanding yellows or a field in which limitations of the intensity of the yellow coloring itself will delay or even stop progress. Fred Meyer feels that, eventually, we may get good yellows of about the intensity of a yellow petunia but that the genes available won't lend themselves beyond that into the brilliant yellows or golds.

While there no doubt will be difficulties to overcome in hybridizers' forward march toward the perfect, large-flowered yellow, there's some good news, too. Years ago Edward O'Rourke determined that the yellow color in Hippeastrum species is a carotinoid. What this means for hybridizers is that the yellow factor can be hybridized with and passed along from parents to progeny.

By the way, while H. anzoldoi and H. evansiae enjoy, even demand, warm temperatures, H. aglaiae can be grown outdoors in Southern California where the temperatures often descend into the twenties ('F) and even the teens during the winter.

As for H. parodii my notes on it read "Hot summers/cold winters". There are at least three green Hippeastrum species. These are:

H. aviflorum—green;
H. calyptratum—green or creamy green (an epiphyte);
H. parodii—which I previously mentioned among the yellow species but which can be on the borderline between yellow and green, sometimes more green or chartreuse than yellow or mint-white; can also be an odd gray-chartreuse color.

To my knowledge, little hybridizing work has been done with these species. Hippeastrum aviflorum is not easy to acquire and H. calyptratum is not easy to grow (perhaps its epiphytic nature has something to do with that). Hippeastrum parodii is easier in both respects and does offer some hope to hybridizers who might be interested in its trumpet form.

In addition, there are other Hippeastrum species which offer green or yellow-green coloring in parts of their flowers. For instance, many species display a green star as a throat marking.

Hippeastrum papilio (the IBS logo) uses green to advantage by contrasting the maroon-red blazes on its flower segments against the cool mint-green of the segments' base color. This gives a striking combination.

Hippeastrum cybister, one of my favorite Hippeastrum species, along with having one of the most bizarrely shaped flowers of all, has, in some forms, stamens with long, swooping, green filaments and pistils with even longer, even more swooping, green styles.

Hippeastrum papilio is a winter-grower tending to be evergreen and a late winter to early spring bloomer while H. cybister is a mid-spring to late spring bloomer and a summer-grower. Both are easy to grow and both will hybridize with other species, I'm told, including some hybrids. Some of Fred Meyer's recent work has been with H. cybister which can produce seedlings with a spidery look and in many colors.


As I mentioned previously, my bulb of 'Lemon-Lime' grew three flower scapes with 6/4/4 flowers its first year. While hybridizers always have sought more flowers per bulb it's not so uncommon nowadays to find three flowering scapes emerging from one's bulbs, even when the bulbs themselves are not of the giant or massive type which are sold so extensively in Germany and The Netherlands. (Sometimes, I'm told, one can even buy the giant bulbs from street vendors in these countries!)

Another phenomenon worth mentioning here is that some hybrids don't know when to stop flowering. I've seen at least one hybrid that, according to the hybridizer, was in flower almost yearround, sending up one flower scape after another. This did not seem to affect the bulbs' vigor as they continued to grow and flower on and on. The bulb(s?) probably would have continued in this manner but the hybridizer felt this "everblooming" characteristic undesirable-"Who wants an amaryllis bulb that blooms all the time?", he questioned-so the cultivar was destroyed.

It's worth noting, however, that this "everblooming" characteristic is possible. In fact it very nearly occurs in at least one species as well. The Doran Collection availability list (mailed to IBS members along with The Underground newsletter, Vol. 2, No. 1, Autumn, 1996) has this to say about item #90. Hippeastrum blossfeldiae : This form has flaming orange flowers, always with six flowers per umbel. Large bulbs can flower any time of year." While H. blossfeldiae is not a constant flowerer, this form is a frequent flowerer capable of blooming more than once a year.


Double amaryllis also have been with us a long time. I'm noticing more of them being available lately. It seems one either likes the doubles a lot or loathes them with equal intensity; there's little room for neutral ground here.

Currently available from many commercial sources and catalogs are varieties such as 'Double Picotee', double white with a red edge, 'Lady Jane', double salmon with white streaks, 'Pasadena', double red with white streaks and 'Double Record', double clear white with red streaks.

Amaryllis Inc. lists twelve doubles: 'Mary Lou', 'Double Record', 'Rainbow', 'Lady Jane', 'Judy Weston', 'Red Peacock', 'Sharon Double Picotee', 'Yock', 'Pasadena', 'Aphrodite', 'Jewell' and 'Blossom Peacock'.

I'm one person who likes double hippeastrums. A lot. So was the late Ivan Kenney. Ivan hybridized for doubles and produced some beauties, none of which, to my knowledge, he introduced. For many years we were privileged to see some of Ivan's creations at our annual amaryllis shows sponsored by the Southern California Hemerocallis and Amaryllis Society. He often took blue ribbons and even higher prizes for his double hybrids.

Ivan told me that there are some tricks to producing double hippeastrums. He said that, as a rule of thumb, if you cross two doubles, you might get up to 50% of the resultant seedlings producing some doubling in the progeny's flowers. Even so, very double flowers are not all that common among the seedlings.

On the other hand, if you cross a double with a single the doubling falls off sharply and you would be lucky to get up to 2 5% of the progeny's flowers showing some doubling. Very double flowers are even less common among the seedlings of these crosses than when two doubles are crossed. If you are interested in hybridizing for double hippeastrums you might bear these figures in mind.

And by the way, don't be intimidated by people who "simply can't stand" double amaryllis. I've noticed that when an especially beautiful double appears on the show benches in all its glory such "I can't stand doubles" people are often standing in front of its many-petalled flowers, jaws dropped, and just as much agog as anybody else.

In general, double-flowering hippeastrums seem to be more popular than ever. If you like them, be proud: hybridize them, grow them and show them. Their flowers are different...and wonderful.


Hippeastrum papilio is the only species I grow which normally produces its leaves and flowers during the winter without special treatment. It's healthy, vigorous, a good multiplier and, if you have more than one clone, a heavy seed-setter, too. I grow mine in pots sitting right out in the open where the bulbs get drenched with the winter rains, frosted by temperatures in the 20's ('F), cooked in the occasional winter/spring heat waves (temperatures in the 80's and 90's ('F) during February, March, April and May this year).

At the same time, this species-which has a tendency to try to remain evergreen (yet with leaves looking quite frazzled or even completely gone by the end of our summers)-also can take the Southern California summer heat. I give mine a little water from time to time during the summer and very little protection winter or summer. Perhaps some frost protection if the temperature is forecast to drop below 25'F. An altogether wonderful species.

For those who enjoy flower arranging, the fantastic coloringmaroon-red on cool lime-green-of H. papilio, while at first glance appearing not to combine with any other color, actually combines with almost every other color. I once took a vase of flowers containing two flowers of H. papilio with a dozen red, pink and yellow tulips and some Blue Ribbon Dutch Iris in to work with me. Talk about a spectacle! I had people coming into my office throughout the day asking me for bulbs, not of the more brightly colored tulips and iris but of the Hippeastrum papilio. Somehow the brilliant colors of its vase-mates brought out the green and muted red-maroon of the H. papilio.

Unlike many more brightly colored flowers, I find that H. papilio looks especially good under fluorescent lights which seem to enhance its green color.


You can go wild with hippeastrum forms. In addition to what we normally think of as the usual hippeastrum shape, as exemplified by the Dutch and South African hybrids, there are trumpet shapes, crimped shapes (H. papilio—it's a "Hipp" with hips), wide petals, flared petals, narrow petals (H. cybister—petals that are little more than threads), variants (H. aulicum var. stenopetalum, H. reticulatum var. striatifolium), huge flowers, mid-size flowers, small flowers (H. molievillquensis, H. miniatum), tiny flowers (H. blumenavium), you name it, this genus probably has it. Then there are the umbels, some with two, four, or six flowers, I've seen umbels with eight flowers. Scapes can be tall, short, intermediate.

Many hippeastrum flowers have scents; all I've smelled so far are delicious. Colors range from scarlet reds to blued reds to rose, pink, lavender, white, yellow, green, blends, contrasts, patterns, markings, stripes, lines, spots.

There are so many directions in which the genus Hippeastrum can be taken by hybridizers that, even with the many people who already have worked within this genus, I'm surprised more don't. With the best care it is not unheard of to have flowers from seed in less than two years. With less care, from three to seven years.

Two suggestions come to mind at this point. For me, my hippeastrums have been gross feeders, so feed them grossly, that is, a small amount, frequently . Every watering is not too much if the fertilizer is diluted sufficiently. In fact, some of the best bulbs I've seen were fed in exactly that manner. The other suggestion is about pest control. Mealybugs, scales, the ants which feed from mealybugs and scales, viruses, fungi, bacteria, and other pests attack hippeastrums as they do so many plants. But with "Hipps", the plants can go downhill with lightning speed. Establish a routine of frequent periodic inspection and clean up any problems before they gain a foothold. Like fertilizer, a little inspection frequently can go a long way towards the health and growth of your plants.


Micropropagation techniques of many plants, including hippeastrums, are well covered in the third edition of Plants From Test Tubes, [reviewed on page 2001. According to the authors, micropropagation itself is not difficult and can be done in an improvised laboratory set up in a home or apartment. Included is a formula called Hippeastrum media, a starting point for those of us who are interested in this kind of "gardening". Getting the techniques right may not be such a hurdle but keeping things sterilized could be. Nevertheless, by following the rules step by step and keeping all sterilized, one should be able to obtain good results in fairly short order.

Of course tried and true bulb multiplication techniques such as raising species from seed, bulb cuttage, twin-scale multiplication and natural bulb multiplication are all techniques the hippeastrum enthusiast should become familiar with.

I pass along a self-pollination technique which I only recently learned about. It might help those of you who are interested in self-pollinating your favorite Hippeastrum species if you have only one clone. While most species are self-sterile, if you take pollen from another hippeastrum-any you have available-and cook it in your microwave oven for several seconds, say from 10 to 20 seconds, then apply it to the stigma of the flower along with its own pollen, sometimes, I'm told, sometimes your single clone can be made to produce seeds from its own pollen. The idea here is that the tiny amounts of slightly different chemicals in the foreign, microwaved-thus-dead pollen trick the plant into believing its own pollen is not its own but from another clone. (Yes, I've tried this trick, but only once. While it didn't work for me that time, there's no reason it might not work next time. Certainly it's worth trying, at least, if you're desperate to get seeds from a species which is definitely self-sterile and you have only one clone.)


From 40,000 hippeastrum seedlings, former International Bulb Society Executive Director Fred Meyer, has made 70 cultivar selections which are now being propagated for the cut-flower, dry bulb and forcing markets. According to Fred, the cut-flower market wants bulbs which grow flowers such as the trumpets, the spiders and miniatures. These must be easy of culture and flowering and have all the other characteristics one might expect from good cut-flower cultivars, such as disease resistance, ease of propagation, wide color range in colors the market demands, good shipping qualities, etc.

My own research, admittedly non-exhaustive, indicates that the cut-flower market tends somewhat to chase fads but also to a large extent relies on the "tried-and-true". Successful new cut-flower cultivars include clear colors, new forms, novelties of many types, tall, tough, flexible, non-breaking flowering stems (scapes), and flowers with perfect, non-breaking, hard-to-bruise segments

The dry bulb market wants bulbs which can bloom with two or more spikes even after having endured the trauma of early harvest, root deprivation, months of dry, cold storage and special early-bloom treatment. In addition, consumers demand pleasing colors, novelties, new cultivars from time to time and ease of culture to flowering especially during that all-important first year of growing.

The forcing market wants cultivars which can be pre-planted and sold, pot, potting mix and all, for early blooming within six to eight weeks from time of purchase. These are grown and sold by the thousands for bloom during the Christmas holidays. Such cultivars must possess the qualities of beauty and ease of growth which consumers demand. Weakness of any sort is quickly discovered. A hybridizer must do intensive testing of cultivars before they're put on the market. Flaws are not tolerated.

The color range of the Meyer hybrids runs the gamut of all the colors we're familiar with, plus lavender-blues, greens, purples, lavenders and spotteds. The flower size goes from the maxis we all know and love so well to minis 5 cm in diameter.

Some of the Meyer hybrids have variegated leaves, six, eight or ten flowers per scape, multiple scapes (up to five per bulb) and, fragrance. I am especially grateful for this last attribute as fragrance, a desirable consumer benefit, is all too often ignored by hybridizers.

Many of Fred Meyer's new hybrid hippeastrums are being propagated for the three markets even now, so we should see some of them emerging into consumers' hands and lives within the next five years or so. In the meantime he continues to work with hippeastrums and has another 40,000 seedlings coming along from which more selections will be made.

Alan Meerow, the International Bulb Society's scientific review editor and fellow IBS Board member, is another modern hippeastrum hybridizer. Alan does much of his work at and for the University of Florida. He is focusing on hybrids that grow well outdoors in the southern part of Florida.

Alan first concentrated on making primary (Fl) hybrids with Hippeastrum papilio and a number of other species including H. brasilianum and H. reticulatum var. striatifolium along with H. fragrantissimum, H. lapacense and H. cardenasianum. He has built upon this foundation of primary hybrids by crossing among them and by introducing genes from tetraploid Dutch hybrids that perform well under Florida conditions. This year, he submitted his first hybrids for University of Florida release: two landscape cultivars for use outdoors and three cultivars for the cut-flower forcing market.

The University of Florida is propagating other selections from among Alan's hybrids and will be releasing these cultivars to the various consumer markets within the next five years.

Alan reports that he, too, is generating cultivars with fragrance, unusual color, high bud and scape count and variegated foliage. He and Fred Meyer have maintained close communication about their respective breeding programs and have even exchanged pollen at times.


Hippeastrum hybridizing continues to be alive and well among hobbyists and professionals alike. Abundant rewards in knowledge and pleasure still await those with discipline and skill. There is also the possibility of financial reward in the form of royalties. While being paid money for one's hybridizing work is a numbers game (usually, one needs to grow huge numbers of seedlings to get a good one or two worthy of introduction), nevertheless, there's always the possibility that your lucky number might come up.

All things considered, it's an exciting time for those of us who love hippeastrums.


I thank Len Doran, friend and mentor, for his generous guidance on Hippeastrum species. He saved me a great deal of research. In addition, I thank Fred Meyer and Alan Meerow for so generously sharing information with me about their current hybridizing work.