Amaryllis and Hippeastrum
Karl King


1) Merian's plate is colored a vivid orange-red, and could scarcely be confused with Müller's pale pink Belladonnas—perhaps explaining why Sealy depicted them as uncolored line-drawings. Merian quoted Hermann's phrase-name Lilium Americanum puniceo flore Belladonna dictum and Sloane's Lilio-narcissus polyanthos, flore incarnato, fundo ex luteo albescente.

2) In 1779 Johann Müller only wrote that the common name for this plant was Belladonna, and that it was described in Species Plantarum. Linnaeus was aware in 1738 that several species were called Belladonna, but named this one Amaryllis reginae in the Systema Naturae ed. 10 (1759) and Species Plantarum ed. 2 (1762). Philip Miller (1768) accepted Linnaeus usage, as did Lamarck in 1783. This is the plate of the 1779 edition of Müller's work, and is extracted from the larger color plate of 1777. In the 1794 edition, published after Müller's death, the name of this plant was changed to Amaryllis Belladonna in agreement with Hort. Kew. (1789).

In the Bulletin of Miscellaneous Information No. 2, 1939, J. R. Sealy provided a fanciful interpretation of Linnaeus's descriptions of Amaryllis Belladonna and reginae which can serve as a textbook example of sophistry. He began with a general history of the genus, as defined by Linnaeus, then launched into a perplexing "proof" that Linnaeus was a hack writer—probably color-blind—who hastily assembled a list of plants without comparing published descriptions and illustrations to the living or dried specimens he had at hand. It is necessary to check Sealy's sources along the way, because apparently he did not.

It is also enlightening to find that J. E. Dandy of the British Museum (Natural History) aided Sealy in his investigation. This is the same J. E. Dandy who proposed that Sealy's analysis be accepted, was a member of the committee that evaluated Sealy's claims, and co-wrote the opinion for the committee.


Sealy wrote that Ferrari described the Cape Belladonna in 1633, but failed to mention that Ferrari also described the American Belladonna, calling it (1) Narcissus Jacobeus; (2) Narcissus Indicus latofolio narcissino, flore rubro, liliaceo and (3) Lilio narcissus Indorum è rubro croceus. In the 1638 Italian version, the color is described simply as "rancio" (orange). The same species was previously described and illustrated in the Hortus Farnesianus (1625) by Tobia Aldinus, who called it Lilionarcissus rubeus indicus and Narcissus Jacobeus.

Paul Hermann, director of the Leyden Botanical Garden, received the American plant from the West Indies, and described it in 1689. A plate of the species was included in his Paradisus Batavus (1698), which was edited for publication by English botanist William Sherard after Hermann's death in 1695.

Hans Sloane listed the American Belladonna in his Catalog (1696) of Jamaican plants as Lilio-narcissus polyanthos, flore incarnato, fundo ex luteo albescente. In his Voyage (1707), he described the wide-open flowers on a hollow scape, and noted that it was common in gardens there. He cited Hermann's description in both works, and promoted Hermann's Paradisus Batavus in England.

Maria Sibylla Merian painted this Lilium Rubrum she saw in Surinam, and published it in her Metamorphosis (1705) identified as the one described by Hermann and Sloane. She brought back a few bulbs, and reported that they had the same plant in the garden of Holland, presumably descended from Hermann's acquisition.

Linnaeus cited these three authors and others under his description of Amaryllis Belladonna in his Hortus Cliffortianus of 1738. All pertained exclusively to the American Belladonna.

The following corrections are numbered following Sealy's article.

(1) Philip Miller (1768) gave the name Amaryllis Belladonna to the American species, A. reginae to the South African, in agreement with Species Plantarum 2 (1762). John Miller, who contributed to the Dictionary of 1768, illustrated the Cape plant as an example of the genus Amaryllis, wrote that it had the common name "Belladonna", and that it was described in Species Plantarum (2nd), in agreement with Miller (1768). The younger Linné reversed the names of the two species only after his father's death, and distinguished Merian's Lilium Rubrum as A. equestris, Knight's Amaryllis, presumably alluding to his father's knighthood, by its horizontal, filiform tube. He did not mention the white-flowered Amaryllis dubia Alm.

(2) The American plant was apparently grown in Italy before the Cape species. It was described by Aldinus in Hortus Farnesianus (1625), and again by Ferrari in 1633. Sloane (1707) noted that the Red Lily was a common garden plant in Jamaica, which was a British territory.

(3) George Ehret, who had been at Hartecamp with Linnaeus, later painted the American species which he identified as the one described in Hort. Cliff.

Further investigation has brought to light the evidence detailed below:—

(1) Ehret's painting of the American species was labeled "Amaryllis spatha multiflora corollis campanulatis aequalibus genitalibus declinatus Linn. h. Cliff." The additional label, "Lilio-Narcissus Indicus saturato colore purpurascens, Moris. Hist.", was borrowed from Plukenet who supposed that Lilionarcissus rubeus indicus Ald. Hort. Farn. was the same as Ferrari's "deep purple" Narcissus Indicus. Ferrari illustrated two species, but described three—with two or three names for each.

(2) The blank specimen agrees somewhat better with a plant imported from the Cape by Clifford's friend Philip Miller, who described it in 1759. It was named Amaryllis capensis in the Gardeners Dictionary of 1768, though it was not the plant Linnaeus described under that name in 1762. However, modern research indicates that the blank specimen is more likely the plant raised by Truffaut.

(3) John Parkinson (1629) divided Narcissus into only two groups according to the number of flowers. Monanthos "beare but one flower, or two at the most", Polyanthos "beare many flowers". Furthermore, Hermann noted that his Belladonna bore "three, four or more flowers". Linnaeus did not cite Hort. Farn. for Amaryllis Belladonna, but Aldinus described a well-grown specimen with five flowers. The A. Reginae of Miller (1768) was the Cape Belladonna. Besides, Linnaeus listed only five species of Amaryllis in Hort. Cliff., which were conveniently divided between "uniflora" and "multiflora".

Linnaeus used "corollis campanulatis" to indicate a lily-like flower. In Mantissa Plantarum (1767) he altered the description to "regularis, campanulata (Hemerocallidis)", citing only Hill's 1758 plates.

John Simson painted the American Belladonna in 1729. This watercolor, labeled "Amarilla", is currently in the Earl of Derby's collection at Knowsley in the North of England.
(4) Miller (1731) wrote of the Red Lily, "The roots of this plant may be very easily brought from the West-Indies, if they are taken up immediately after their Leaves decay, and sent over in a Box dry, for if they are planted in Tubs of Earth, they generally rot in their Passage, by receiving too great Quantities of Water." Hill (1757) wrote that the bulbs were imported "in Abundance," and in 1758 expressed his gratitude to Mr. Lee of Hammersmith who "for the space of six weeks, from the middle of February to the end of March, supplied me almost daily with fresh plants in flower for the experiments." Clearly the Red Lily was readily available in Linnaeus's time.

(5) The American Belladonna was in cultivation in Italy before 1625, and may have been the Narcissus indicus occidentalis foliis Narcissi latifolii of Sweerts (1612). It was included by Miller in his Gardener's Dictionary from 1731 onwards; it was apparently introduced into England at an early date (Hanmer received bulbs in 1655) and became well-known. Morison described the Cape Belladonna as common in Italy, but confused it with the true "Donna bella" of Ferrari which had about 20 flowers. Both the true and false Donna bellas were in cultivation in England in Miller's time, but were said (Miller, 1731) to be very rare and difficult:

The American Belladonna, however, would have thrived in the heated greenhouses constructed by Hermann at the Leyden garden, and in Clifford's orangerie.

(6) Philip Miller, in his Figures of Plants (1755-1760), illustrated the scarlet Belladonna (t.23), and in the second edition of the Species Plantarum, Linnaeus cited Miller's figure as an illustration of his Amaryllis Belladonna. The Cape Belladonna (t.24) was referred by Linnaeus to Amaryllis reginae. Linnaeus placed too much faith in Miller, which is how Hermann's Belladonna came to be placed under the Cape Belladonna. Linnaeus did not read English, referring only to the numbered plates and the Latin descriptions in the corresponding text—as printed.

Sir John Hill (1774) understood "ungue reflexis" to mean "bent at the base", and translated "Nec ad ungues recurvatis" as "strait at the base" (i.e. not recurved at the base). In his Mantissa Plantarum, Linnaeus described Amaryllis capensis (non Mill. Dict.) as "Macula nigricans ad Petalorum ungues", which refers to the dark blotches at the petal bases. That is, "ungue" refers to the "claw" or base of the petal, a usage that goes back at least to the time of Pliny the Elder. Regarding roses he wrote "foliorum partes quae sunt candidae ungues vocantur." (Plin. Nat. 21. 121.) Roughly translated, "the white parts of the petals are called claws".

Whether Linnaeus saw Johann Müller's plate of the Cape Belladonna is uncertain and irrelevant. Linnaeus was aware that several species were commonly called Belladonna, and Müller only noted that "Belladonna" was the common name for the plant depicted, which was listed in Species Plantarum (1762)—as Amaryllis reginae.

It is a mystery to me how Sealy could have mistaken "Petala 3 exteriora apice ungue intus retro spectante. Petala 3 superiora basi ciliata" for a description of the Cape Belladonna. "3 exterior tepals bent backwards from the inside, base to tip. 3 superior (upper) petals with ciliated bases" clearly describes the American Belladonna.

The descriptions in Hortus Nitidissimis were largely borrowed from Miller's Gardeners Dictionary, errors and all.

(7) By the 1760s, Linnaeus was revising his opinions of the dictinctions between Crinum and Amaryllis. Amaryllis zeylanica was transferred to Crinum, for example. Perhaps the long tube of the Surinam specimen initially suggested its affinity to Crinum, but Linnaeus named it Amaryllis dubia in the 12th edition of Systema Naturae. Merian's plant, which was also native to Surinam, had a similarly long tube. The plants represented by Ehret, Hill, Seligmann and Gessner had shorter tubes.

(8) The younger Linnaeus prepared a MS while visiting Kew, after his father's death, and was apparently influenced by his hosts. In this work he returned Crinum zeylanicum to Amaryllis in agreement with the English opinion, and reversed the names Belladonna and reginae. His Amaryllis equestris was applied only to Merian's plant.

"Restricted" does not describe what L'Héritier did to Amaryllis Belladonna. He included plants from three or four genera under his Belladonna. Three of his references are to American plants—Hort. Farn. being the first in the list. He also noted that the brick-red [Rhodophiala] chilensis was the same color as reginae and Belladonna.

The evidence from the foregoing discussion may be conveniently summarized thus:—

(a) Linnaeus knew a living plant of his Amaryllis Belladonna in Clifford's garden;

(b) The American Belladonna was imported by the English "in abundance" from America. The Cape Belladonna was a well-known garden plant in Italy in Linnaeus's day, though far less common in England, Holland and Sweden, where Linnaeus worked. Other plants well known in gardens were not listed in Species Plantarum (e.g., Rosa damascena Mill.).

(c) There is a specimen of a Cape Belladonna in the Clifford Herbarium, though there is no evidence that Linnaeus ever saw it.

(d) Linnaeus especially mentions his Amaryllis Belladonna as an outstandingly beautiful species; it was apparently reasonably well-known in cultivation, since Linnaeus mentions the name given to it in gardens. John Simson (1729) painted the American Belladonna labeled as "Amarilla", and John Hill (1757) called the flowers "uncommonly elegant".

(e) Linnaeus's original diagnosis of Amaryllis Belladonna fits the American plant he was describing. There was no reason in 1738 for him to distinguish it from a plant he would not describe until 1759. Sloane's description, cited by Linnaeus in Hort. Cliff., described the hollow scape and wide-open flowers.

(f) In the second edition of his Species Plantarum, Linnaeus cited t.24, a figure of the Cape plant, as an illustration of Amaryllis reginae. T.23, the Scarlet Belladonna, was cited under Amaryllis Belladonna. The added phrase, "ungues recurvatis" means that the petals are recurved at the base, as Sir John Hill explained in 1774. Furthermore, Linnaeus wrote a description of his Amaryllis Belladonna in his own copy of Species Plantarum ed. 2, and that description is also of the American Belladonna, including mention of the ciliated bases of the petals depicted in Hill's plate of 1758. This all shows that Linnaeus clearly distinguished A. Belladonna from the Cape Belladonna, A. reginae.

(g) Under Amaryllis reginae Linnaeus, following Miller, erroneously cited as a synonym the Lilium Americanum...etc. of Hermann, which he himself had cited under A. Belladonna in 1738, and which is the same plant (Hippeastrum equestre) to which his synonyms under A. Belladonna belong. This merely indicates that Linnaeus got his information for A. reginae from Miller's 1760 Figures, where Hermann's phrase-name was incorrectly associated with the plate of the Cape Belladonna.

(h) In 1775 Jacob Alm, a student of Linnaeus, described the white-flowered Amaryllis dubia from Surinam, which is labeled Crinum barbatum in the Linnaean herbarium. He associated it with Merian's Lilium Rubrum, also from Surinam, which had a longer, narrower tube than other specimens of Amaryllis Belladonna. (Linnaeus had previously described and named this species in the 12th edition of Systema Naturae.) Linn. fil. later distinguished Merian's plant by its horizontal, filiform tube and upturned flower as Amaryllis Equestris. William Herbert broadened the definition of his Hippeastrum equestre to include the other forms of Amaryllis Belladonna L.

(i) Philip Miller (1768) accepted the name Amaryllis Belladonna for the Scarlet Belladonna, and A. reginae for the Cape plant. L'Héritier excluded very little from his Amaryllis Belladonna, but included three references to American Amaryllis. Furthermore, L'Héritier published his Sertum Anglicum 10 years after Linnaeus died. Neither he nor Linn. fils quoted Linnaeus as authority for the names Amaryllis Belladonna or reginae.

Taken as a whole, this evidence indicates that Linnaeus knew the Cape Belladonna from the literature and named it Amaryllis reginae. His only real confusion came from following Philip Miller in placing Hermann's Belladonna with the Cape Plant.

The name Amaryllis Belladonna was based only on the American plant later called Hippeastrum equestre (Herb.), known to Linnaeus in cultivation and from the literature. The difficulties occur primarily with later English writers, and others who visited Kew after Linnaeus's death. De Candolle, for instance, admitted that Amaryllis equestris deserved the "nickname" Belladonna, but he preferred to follow the received nomenclature. De Candolle was a frequent visitor at Kew.

Now regarding the identification of Amaryllis Belladonna L., it seems that the four following views are possible:—

(1) The earliest mention of Amaryllis Belladonna as the Cape plant is in the unpublished MS of Linn. fils. This is Uphof's conclusion. I have found no earlier misuse of the name.

(2) Ignoring Sealy's deliberate mistranslation of "ungues" as "in the shape of a claw", Linnaeus mentioned no characters in his various descriptions of Amaryllis Belladonna that do not apply to the American species.

(3) If we can imagine that Linnaeus confused the brilliant orange-red of Merian's Lilium rubrum with the pale pink of the Cape plant, and that he somehow managed to ignore all the valid descriptions of the Cape Belladonna in the various sources he quoted, then ...

(4) If we assume, against all evidence and reason, that Linnaeus confused the two species, we could wonder which "has a better claim than the other to the name Amaryllis Belladonna L." This, in fact, seems to be the crux of the matter—Sealy apparently thought that the Cape plant deserved the name "Belladonna", regardless of what Linnaeus thought or wrote.

With regard to these four possibilities I would remark as follows: Sealy was intent on maintaining the appearance of objectivity, while carefully avoiding it.

(1) Sealy rejected outright the possibility that Linnaeus knew what he was doing.

(2) and (3) Sealy assumed that Linnaeus was confused, and needed help in distinguishing deep orange-red from pale pink, ciliated petal bases from smooth, recurved petals from straight, etc.

(4) L'Héritier (1788) did not restrict the name A. Belladonna to the Cape Belladonna. He included three references to American species. It was dishonest of Sealy to claim that L'Héritier's treatment was independent from that of the younger Linnaeus. L'Héritier worked at Kew, and corresponded with Dryander—who made use of the younger von Linné's MS in the writing of Hort. Kew.—after returning to France. L'Héritier also included "Lilio-narcissus pumilus indicus polyanthos. Corn. can." under his Amaryllis Belladonna (non L), which makes no sense at all until we see that Linn. fils cited "Cornutii figura videtur aliam exprimere plantam, sed quam ignoro" in his description of the species.

The blank specimen in the Clifford Herbarium has no demonstrable connection with Linnaeus. It could have been added anytime before Clifford's death in 1760, after his death, or even after it came into the possession of the British Museum. It cannot be accepted as the lectotype, working type, or any other sort of "type" for a species described by Linneaus in 1738.

Further Notes

Johannes Burman, editor of the 1741 edition of Herbarium Amboinense of Rumphius, presented Hermann's Lilium Americanum...Bella donna dictum as a representative of the newly defined genus Amaryllis L. He was Dutch and knew Linnaeus. At this time there was no confusion.

According to Sir John Hill (1757), "The common Writers distinguish a deep purple Amaryllis, as the Belladonna Lilly, distinct from this which they call Red Lilly; but we write to guard the Student against their Errors. Linnaeus has established this Point in his Species Plantarum, Vol. I. p. 293."

Johann Gessner, a personal friend of Linnaeus, acknowledged Amaryllis Belladonna as the "westindische Amaryllis". His plate of the Hexandria Monogyna includes this A. Belladonna, which resembles Ehret's plate of the same plant.

P. Miller (1759) wrote that the Zeylon Lily "is also tender, and must be treated in the same manner as the sixth (West Indies Belladonna); this is more common in the gardens in Holland than in this country; and as it is a plant which increases but slowly, will not be very common here." Therefore, we may not assume that the tender Scarlet Belladonna was more likely to have disappeared from the Leyden garden than the short-lived Cape plant.

Linnaeus stipulated in his will that his son Carl was not to have the herbarium "as he never helped me in botany and has no love for it". After visiting Kew, Linn. fils went home again, and bought his father's herbarium with borrowed money. The herbarium had been damaged by mildew and vermin. Linn. fils reportedly discarded damaged specimens, which could account for the absences. He died in 1783.

Ravenna (2003) has provided more evidence that the Blank Specimen in the Clifford Herbarium could not have been examined by Linnaeus.

"The last argument for retaining the name Amaryllis belladonna L for the African plant now called Brunsvigia rosea (Lam.) Hann., falls down before the evidence that this specimen, a scape in flower, was pressed well beyond 1737, the year of publication of Hortus Cliffortianus. In fact, the writer obtained a 3-mm- long piece from the scape base, and sent it to Geochron Laboratories datation company, a division of Krueger Enterprises, of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Mr. Harry Krueger, Manager, informed that the C14 procedure on the AMS sample, revealed that the specimen was alive on a date between 1744 and 1844, on account of the markerd date. Therefore, hardly could Linnaeus had examined this material when he elaborated Hortus Cliffortianus. Who inserted the specimen in the Clifford Herbarium? Who could had special interest in doing that? The reader may judge."