The end of summer is a difficult season for flowers in Mediterranean regions. Most of the water has dried up in the course of the summer, seasonal water sources have dried up as well, and it will take a few more months before the first rains will saturate the soil. Nevertheless, there are flowers that dare to bloom particularly in this season. The best known in Israel is the Sea Squill (Drimia maritima). However, if you visit the South Africa section in the Botanical Garden, you can see our plant of the month: the Amaryllis belladonna or Belladonna Lily.
Why have the Amaryllis and the Drimia chosen to bloom in the inhospitable end-of-summer season, and how do they manage to produce such magnificent flowers? The reason is their large bulb, which stores a lot of water and nutrition. And why should they do so? The pollinators are the reason. In spring, at the peak of the flowering season, there is a tough competition among the flowers over insects’ attention: each flower “wants” the pollinating insects to visit it and pollinate it – that they should pass pollen from flower to flower to enable fertilization, and the production of fruit and new seeds. In autumn, flowers are scarce and the insects are happy with any flower they might find.
The Amaryllis and the Drimia manage to time their blooming to this season by means of a large bulb, which accumulates nutrition and water in the course of the winter, and allows them to grow an impressive inflorescence towards the end of the summer, using resources from the previous winter, stored in the bulb. In this way they avoid the major spring competition, and obtain almost exclusive pollination services. The leaves will sprout later on, together with the rain.
In plant nurseries we frequently find another plant by the name of “Amaryllis” – yet this is not an Amaryllis, but rather another plant from the same family called Hippeastrum. The Amaryllis has pink flowers, while the Hippeastrum has a large star-shaped flower, which in cultivation has a variety of colors including white, yellow, pink, and red as well as combinations of them. The Hippeastrum is a South-American subtropical plant, and was originally described as an Amaryllis. However, already in the 19th century it was declared a separate genus. The name, apparently, is stronger than the time that has passed.
The Amaryllis‘ name originates in Greek Mythology. Amaryllis was a maiden, who fell in love with the shepherd Alteo. He was a strong, good looking, flower-loving man (just like our own gardeners!), but he paid no attention to her. Amaryllis went to the Oracle of Delphi for advice, how to get Alteo to fall in love with her.
Following the Oracle’s advice, she stood in front of Alteo’s house for thirty nights piercing her heart with a golden arrow (not to the death, just enough to draw blood). On the thirtieth night, a beautiful flower grew where her blood had poured, and with the help of the flower she won over Alteo’s love.
The specific Latin epithet – Belladonna – means “a beautiful lady”. One of the Amaryllis’ common names is “Naked Lady Lily”, because it blooms without the leaves, with a naked stem.
You can find the Amaryllis all over the South Africa section in the garden, crowned with pink flowers. If you look carefully, you can also find some white flowers. We invite you to return in the winter and see its leaves. You are welcome to visit the garden, enjoy the Amaryllis flowers as well as many other plants!
Author: Yael Orgad