Amaryllis: Tropical Treasures

Amaryllis, tropical natives, are dramatic, fast-growing bulbs with brilliant blooms bound to captivate your classes year after year. Unlike bulbs from cool climates that require chilling, the amaryllis hails from warm climates, and will bloom 4-6 weeks after planting, with little care.

Plant amaryllis in moist potting mix with 1/2 to 2/3 of the bulb protruding above the soil. Since amaryllis thrive in cramped quarters, leave no more than 1/2 -to 1-inch of space between the bulb and the container. Leave the pot in a warm well-lit spot, and don't water it again until the first leaf or flower bud starts to grow. Then keep the soil moist. Since timing varies, this should provide some suspense for your sharp-eyed classroom observers.

Flowers will usually appear in five or six weeks. When they appear, move the plant to a cooler, less lighted spot to lengthen the life of the flowers. The size and magnificence of amaryllis flowers invites close exploration of flower parts and of pollination, seed and fruit production. Like other lily family members, the flowers have 6 petals and 6 stamens surrounding a pistil. Once the flower is open, have students observe the parts carefully to discover signs of the flower's readiness for pollination. (The 3 prongs of the pistil actually open upward when the flower can accept pollen.) Invite your class to "play the bees," using a cotton swab or paintbrush to transfer pollen from one flower to another. Following successful pollination, a swelling containing ovaries and then seeds will emerge at the base of the flower. It would take 2 to 3 years to grow a flowering plant from these seeds.

To make amaryllis bloom another year, cut off the flowers once they've withered, but leave the stalk and leaves. Leave the plant in a sunny window or GrowLab, and treat it as you would any houseplant, watering and fertilizing regularly. Leaves require light, nutrients, and water to photosynthesize and produce food for another year of growth and flowering. The leaves will turn yellow and die in late summer or fall, signaling the plant's dormancy. Remove the leaves, stop watering and fertilizing, and store the pot in a cool basement until signs of new growth appear in the winter, and the cycle begins again.

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