Hippeastrum papilio – Butterfly Amaryllis

10 Apr

It is the height of spring and our Gardens are beautiful. This time we invite you to see a plant not planted in the beds but rather one that is part of the “Plants of the Month” display by the Gardens’ nursery. In a few months, when the renewed tropical conservatory is ready, it will be planted there among the trees.

Photo: Gal Israeli

Hippeastrum papilio is a bulbous herbaceous perennial from the Amaryllis plant family (Amaryllidaceae) with impressive giant flowers in shades of creme, green and crimson. The species name papilio, meaning ‘butterfly’ in Latin, was given it for obvious reasons.

The genus name Hippeastrum includes approximately 90 species that grow in different habitats from Central to South America. They are all geophytes, plants with bulbs. There are hundreds of cultivars sold in nurseries and flower shops for their impressive flowers and ability to bloom indoors. They are sold under the mistaken name ‘Amaryllis’, which belongs to the similar plants from Southern Africa.

Hippeastrum papilio grows naturally in the Atlantic Forest of Eastern Brazil, in humid sub-tropical climate (hot and humid summer, cool winter and scattered showers throughout the year). It is one of four Hippeastrum species that are epiphytes, meaning plants which grow on other plants. It grows on the forest trees, which allow it to grow far above the dark forest floor and nearer to the sunlight. This growth model indeed offers advantages in term of light but presents certain challenges. Epiphytes don’t have soil as a source of water and nutrients and so have developed mechanisms for quick absorption and extended storage of nutrients and water to deal with dry spells or periods of shortage. Hippeastrum papilio has, as mentioned, a bulbous storage organ, its fleshy leaves slow evaporation, and their bow shape guides rainwater towards the bulb and roots submerged in organic matter caught in pockets in the barks and branches of the host trees.

The Atlantic Forest in Brazil, where the species grows, is subject to deforestation for agriculture and urbanization, and according to estimations today remain only about 10-15% of its size prior to human interference. Hippeastrum papilio used to be considered extinct in the wild, but it was rediscovered in south Brazil in 1990 and currently there are only 50 known wild specimens. The plant was saved and redistributed thanks to botanical gardens specializing in this ecological type and today H. papilio is widely cultivated for gardening.

In Israel it can be found in good nurseries. Unlike the common cultivars, Hippeastrum papilio is evergreen and resilient to viruses. It can be grown in Israel on the coastal plain or further inland in the mountains provided it is sheltered in winter. It needs light shade or half a day of sunlight. We do not have information on growing it in Israel’s warmer areas. It can be grown either as an epiphyte or as a geophyte: As an epiphyte it can be tied to trees with coconut fibers sold in garden centers, while regular irrigation and a humid atmosphere are crucial; As a geophyte it can be grown in a pot or well draining rich organic matter, keeping about third of the bulb above soil level.

In an Israeli garden. Photo: Gal Israeli

You are welcome to take a spring stroll through our garden and visit the nursery, the geophyte terrace and the Plant of the Month display.

April 2017