LIVING JEWELS: NUMBER 3 IN A SERIES
It has been more than twenty years now since I received my first bulbs of Hippeastrum blumenavia from Ivan and Meta Korsakoff. Little did I know then the prize they had bestowed upon me. Of all the bulbous wonders I grow, this species has proven to be one of my favorites. In part, that's because of its extreme beauty and ease of culture. Then there is its uniqueness among the entire Hippeastrum clan and its continuing bewilderment to the botanical and taxonomic community.
It's hard to imagine anything more beautiful than a potful of this dainty amaryllid blooming away during its late spring flowering period-the month of May for me. The flowers are pink to rosy pink on a white background with distinctive rosy pink veining. In some forms the color is darker than in other forms. Flowers are 2 1/2-3 inches (6.5-7.5cm) wide with from 2-8 blooms on a 5-7 inch (13-18cm) stem. Not only the flowers are beautiful-the broad, dark green, lance shaped leaves with veining throughout are exquisite in their own right.
In his article "Collecting Amaryllids in Latin America" (Plant Life 7, 1951, page 17), Mulford B. Foster has this to say about H. blumenavia: "On this trip I collected still farther south in Brazil than I had done previously. This time I went on to the state of Santa Catharina and not far from Blumenau I collected the beautiful little Amaryllis blumenavia [now Hippeastrum blumenavia ]. This is really a meadow flower as lovely as any species in the family. I brought back both bulbs and seeds and have had them bloom since my return. The seeds are semi-succulent, not as globular as those of A. reticulata var. striatifolia, but very different from the flat wafer seeds of the usual Amaryllis species."
This species has proven to be one of the "easy" amaryllids in my bulb collection so I found it odd to come across the following in Mr. Foster's article: "Several attempts have been made to growA. blumenavia in this country [U.S.A.] and apparently with but little success. My experience has been that it desires much water in a loose, rather spongy soil and it will thrive best on the shady side."
He's right about this species thriving in shade. I've tried various locations for H. blumenavia, but those it seems to like best are shady in the summer, with more sun in the winter, and cool, always. As Mr. Foster stated, this species does like plenty of water.
Recently, I asked my friend Leonard Doran about the correct culture for this little gem. Leonard told me it comes from an area where it rains nearly every day during the wet season, and that frosts are not uncommon during the winter, although I doubt he means frosts hard enough to freeze the ground.
In time, I may have to differ slightly with Mr. Foster with regard to his "loose, rather spongy soil mix". It's true that most of my H. blumenavias grow and do quite well in such a mix. But a bulb grown from a seed casually tossed into a potful of crushed granite sand grows and multiplies best of all-in soil compacted from years of watering and settling. Further experimentation should lead me to a more definitive "best" soil for this species.
Leonard Doran grows his bulbs in silica sand. He fertilizes frequently, as do 1. His bulbs, like mine, grow like troopers. I should mention, at this point, that Leonard was a chemist by profession, and knows a good deal about agronomy and just what to feed and when to fertilize his bulbs, while I am far less scientific in my approach. Leonard also grows his bulbs in a hot greenhouse in full light, a method which certainly did not work well for my bulbs-mine lived but didn't thrive under such conditions.
If all this sounds confusing to would-be growers of this fine species, the point I'm hoping to make is that both Leonard Doran's set of bulbs and my own grow, flower and multiply in spite of our opposite approaches to culture. The term "ease of culture" comes to mind here, so if you get a chance to grow this fine species, don't hesitate to make the attempt.
Mr. Foster must have tended the seeds he brought back from Brazil with the utmost care and kept them moist throughout their trip. Seeds from my plants have been known to die within three to five days-depending on whether or not we're having a hot spell if they are not able to absorb water once they drop from the parent. That's because they're nearly unique seeds for a Hippeastrum, being fleshy. (I say "nearly unique" because Mr. Foster mentions another Hippeastrum in his article which also produces succulent seeds: Hippeastrum reticulate var. striatifolia). About half the size of a green pea, sometimes roundish, sometimes with angles due to compression within the seed pod, seeds of H. blumenavia require a 6 week period of ripening while they're still on the mother plant and a 6-10 week period of after-ripening once they've fallen off before they germinate and grow. They are extremely subject to fungus attack during this after-ripening stage. In fact, for years, I had trouble germinating any but a few seeds out of the 200 or so I would harvest on an annual basis. The reason for this was a fungus which no amount of fungicide could cure. It seemed to be passed on to the radicles while the seeds were still being formed on the mother plants. Once the seeds were planted, the fungus then attacked the radicle and killed it, usually before the radicle had a chance to grow. The seed endosperm would soon follow the radicle in death.
There was a cure for this problem, however. I noticed that once the tiny plants germinated and were growing, the same fungus could attack the plants and, while it might slow them down, it did not completely stop them from growing. A systemic fungicide came to my aid, and I now apply this fungicide four or five times a year to the mature plants, the mother bulbs. I am careful to do this at least twice-January or February, then March or April before the plants bloom in May. Then the fungicide is applied once more while the seeds are forming. This procedure has eliminated the problem of seed death before germination.
Hippeastrum blumenavia can plant its own seeds. The plant is curious in that, once the spike has bloomed, it bends its developing fruiting stems over, seeds and all, and once the seeds have ripened the pod bursts and spills the fleshy, black-coated seeds upon the ground. This process is one of nature's little curiosities which never fails to amuse me.
In Plant Life 6, 1950, Mr. Foster wrote: "In southern Brazil, down in Santa Catarina (sic), I was rewarded with the great thrill of finding the rare Amaryllis blumenavia. Years ago it was classed as Griffinia. It was in a rather rich, moist section both in the forest and on the meadow edging the forest. Evidently it prefers rather moist conditions. With an umbel of 6 to 8 flowers, white, streaked with pale rose, this cheerful Amaryllis surely must come back to our collections. It is a small plant, only 6 to 8 inches high, but nevertheless a very worth while (sic) subject."
I quote Mr. Foster here for several reasons. The first is to clarify the locale of H. blumenavia's origin: "southern Brazil", possibly an important climatic clue to its preference for growing conditions which I find to be somewhat cool rather than warm. The second is to clarify its habitat for those readers who might be trying to grow this species: "rather rich, moist section both in the forest and on the meadow edging the forest ... it prefers rather moist conditions." The third reason is to provide a thumbnail sketch of the species: "umbel of 6 to 8 flowers, white streaked with pale rose ... small plant ... 6 to 8 inches high ... very worth while (sic) subject."
The fourth reason I include this quote is that the debate over just what this amaryllid is, rages on. Several of the best taxonomic minds concede that, while H. blumenavia superficially resembles a Griffinia, it is not a member of that genus. On the other hand, while it taxonomically resembles a Hippeastrum, it may not belong in that genus either. Leonard Doran believes it probably should be placed in a monospecific genus all its own. I tend to agree with him, but, as neither of us is a botanist nor a taxonomist, we must both defer to those of higher learning in those fields.
In the meantime, I'll segue out of this nomenclature debate by using the "a rose by any other name..." quote and while I'm still obliged to call it Hippeastrum blumenavia, whatever it's called now or in the future, it's a great little bulb to grow, easy of culture with cool, moist and bright shade being the key words here-and extremely rewarding with blooms and seeds. A potful of bulbs is an entire bouquet.
One other thing I've noticed: H. blumenavia usually has a 4-6 week period of dormancy just before it blooms, at least it does for me. I'm not sure this is a hard and fast rule, though, as I used to give it more sunshine than it wanted and only in the last year have I concentrated my observations for its culture while growing it in the shade. (I must say, it's doing much better in the shade.) In his excellent article "Amaryllis Blumenavia" in Plant Life 16, 1960, page 125, Douglas D. Craft quotes Dr. Hamilton P. Traub from his article in The Amaryllis Manual, p.35, 1958 as writing about H. blumenavia: "It should be well watered during the summer growing season, and sparingly during the winter resting period. It is best not to dry off the plant entirely at any time...... Douglas Craft himself writes in the same article: "It is also noted that this species would appear to be practically an evergreen one."
If you are interested in learning more about Hippeastrum blumenavia, you'll probably want to get a copy of Plant Life 16, 1960 and read Douglas Craft's most interesting article on this species.