May be harmful if eaten by humans or animals – Keep away from children and pets
Nudity is not a usual sight on Cape Town’s mountain slopes, so the 1996 appearance of thousands of naked ladies on Lion’s Head is still a great topic of conversation 17 years down the line. These chats are, however, usually held between plant-lovers, because the ladies in question were Amaryllis belladonna, known as naked ladies because of the order in which their flowers grow before their leaves even appear, a not-so-common phenomenon known as hysteranthy.
Although the great blooming Lion’s Head show was spurred on by a fire that occurred two months previously, you don’t have to go to flaming extremes to create your own spectacle of Amaryllis belladonna at home. This genus is actually praised for its ease of cultivation.
Named after Amarysso, the gorgeous shepherdess in Virgil’s epic poem Eclogues, Amaryllis means ‘to sparkle’ – and so it does! Its flowers appear in the shape of decorative lampshades with exquisitely curved edges, and present a deliciously sweet, fruity scent, with colours ranging from pure white to various shades of pink. About 10cm long, these petals open to around 8cm to mimic a trumpet-like arch. The curvaceous aesthetic of these beauties is enhanced with a long upturned style that appears amid a group of large, curved anthers that present a sticky white pollen. Whether grown in pots or in clusters in a garden, this plant makes a gorgeous late-summer statement when it comes into full bloom.
Also known as the March lily (and not to be confused with the Hippeastrum, whose common name is also amaryllis), Amaryllis belladonna, indigenous to South Africa, and occurring mostly in the Western Cape, flowers annually between February and April and can produce up to 12 flowers per metre-long purplish-red stem. Its strap-like leaves only appear once the flowers have died, and they remain green throughout the winter so that the plant continues to look alive and healthy, ready for the next late-summer extravaganza. Your only concern during this time of dormancy is to make sure the lily borer stays away from your plant. This black-and-yellow striped caterpillar will bore into your plant’s leaves to get into the stem and eventually the bulb, so remove such unwelcome intruders immediately.
Amaryllis belladonna bulbs should be planted between November and January, with the neck at or just below soil level, in sandy loam with some compost. They grow best in full sun, but semi-shade will also do, although this may reduce the number of flowers produced on a stem. Although they can tolerate arid conditions, they require regular watering, but ample drainage is a pre-requisite, making them incredibly well-suited to rock gardens. Pick your planting spot well, as naked ladies do not enjoy being moved, and will retaliate by not flowering for several seasons.
It’s the same as with any lady – treat her well and the rewards will flourish.