Amaryllis — Amaryllis is a monotypic (only one species) genus of plant also known as the Belladonna Lily or naked ladies. The single species, Amaryllis belladonna, is a native of South Africa, particularly the rocky southwest region near the Cape. It is often confused with the Hippeastrum, a flowering bulb commonly sold in the winter months for its propensity to bloom indoors. It is also known as the “Jersey Lily”, named after the Channel Island, and has in turn given its name to the Jersey born actress Lillie Langtry.
The Belladonna Lily is a bulbous plant, with each bulb being 5-10 cm in diameter. It has several strap-shaped, green leaves, 30-50 cm long and 2-3 cm broad, arranged in two rows. The leaves are produced in the autumn or early spring in cold climates and eventually die down by late spring. The bulb is then dormant until late summer.
In late summer (August in zone 7) each bulb produces one or two naked stems 30-60 cm tall, each of which bear a cluster of 2 to 12 funnel-shaped flowers at their tops. Each flower is 6-10 cm diameter with six sepals (three outer sepals, three inner petals, with similar appearance to each other). The usual color is white with crimson veins, but pink or purple also occur naturally. This pattern of flowering at a different time from when foliage appears is the cause of its common name “naked lady”.
The Belladonna Lily was introduced into cultivation at the beginning of the eighteenth century. However, most of the so-called Amaryllis bulbs sold as ‘ready to bloom for the holidays’ belong to the allied genus Hippeastrum, despite being labeled as ‘Amaryllis’ by sellers and nurseries. Adding to the name confusion, some bulbs of other species with a similar growth and flowering pattern are also sometimes called “naked ladies”, even though those species have their own more widely used and accepted common names, such as the Resurrection Lily.