There is often confusion when it comes to these two names to the extent that most of the large flowered hybrids that are seen in East Africa are erroneously called Amaryllis while they are, in fact, Hippeastrums.
Although similar to Hippeastrum, the true Amaryllis is a bulb from South Africa with only one species in this genus, Amaryllis belladonna. This has pure pink trumpet-shaped flowers and is quite unusual in East Africa as it needs a cool climate above 2,000 metres in altitude with a three-month complete dry rest after the strap-shaped leaves turn yellow and dry off.
After the three months rest, watering is resumed when the scented flowers will appear. When the flowers die away, the leaves will appear. This is usually treated as a garden plant and the dry period for this bulb is best left to the seasonally dry period of January through to the end of March.
Hippeastrums are from Central and South America with 75 species in the genus. Like the Amaryllis, they have strap-shaped leaves and large trumpet-shaped flowers but they come in many colours.
Over many decades, plant breeders have produced lots of hybrids with large blooms in varying shades of red, pink, orange and white often with striping, all of which are very attractive.
Hippeastrum are easily grown and are best in either full sun or dappled shade, either as a potted plant or in the garden border. They need to be planted in well-draining soil with 5 cm of the bulb showing above the soil level.
If necessary, add pumice or sharp sand to the soil to improve the drainage. When planting the bulb, add a little compost and bone meal to the mix which will enhance their growth.
For the best flower display, it is important to rest the plants between flowerings. This can be done naturally by simply following the seasons here in East Africa. During the dry weather, all that will be seen is the top of the bulb.
The next flush of flower stems and of leaves will appear after the first rains. To achieve this when using them as garden plants, plant in the dry season so that the bulb comes to life during the rainy season.
Once the rainy season ends, allow the leaves to die away so the bulb can rest and wait for the next rainy season. The plants will continue to grow if kept continually watered but the flower display will not be so impressive and the bulbs will become exhausted more quickly.
If using as a potted plant, select a large pot, at least 25 cm in diameter, since this is a large plant when in full leaf and flower. If using an even larger pot, 2 or 3 bulbs could be planted together.
If you are using the Hippeastrum as a potted plant, it is easier to control the drying off period by merely moving the pot from direct sun to under a cover so that it cannot be affected by rain. As a potted plant, it is easy to reduce watering and let the leaves wither away after flowering.
Hippeastrum can be grown from coast level to about 1,800 metres but remember that above this level, where there is usually more rain and less dry periods, the plants do not perform so well.
During the flowering season, the display will be improved by a weekly watering with a liquid feed.
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