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The big family of the Amaryllidaceae

How big is the Amaryllidaceae Family?
The Amaryllidaceae is a family of about 870 species in around 50 genera of bulbous or rhizomatous (Clivia, Cryptostephanus andScadoxus) perennial herbs, with alternate strap-shaped leaves which may be semi-succulent. The bulbs and rhyzomes may also be thought of as succulent storage organs, enabling these plants to survive dry seasons.

Species are found throughout the tropical and sub-tropical parts of the world including Australia (3 genera), Mediterranean (8 genera) South America (28 genera), South Africa (18 genera). In Southern Africa, the bulbs often sit on the surface rather than below it, but species that grow with sub-surface bulbs maintain them at a proper depth with contractile roots.

Many species are cultivated for their decorative umbels of attractive bisexual flowers, which in some cases are produced before the leaves. Flowers have six segments and vary from star-shaped to tubular or trumpet-shaped. Many are heavily scented. Seeds have a characteristic black or blue crust of the pigment phytomelanin and are contained in berries or loculicidal capsules. Many members of the Amaryllidaceae contain the poisonous alkaloid Lycorine with lesser amounts of other alkaloids and should not be eaten.

Cultivation: The soil should be free-draining, but with more organic material than with other succulents. Species whose bulbs grow on the surface should be placed on a layer of sand or grit to protect them from moisture in the soil.

Choice Amaryllidaceae from desert habitats often find a place among collections of succulent plants, but would not normally be exhibited as succulents. As with other succulents, there are both summer and winter growers, and watering regimes should respect periods of dormancy. When leaves are present, regular applications of high nitrogen or balanced fertilser helps to plump up the bulbs.

Amaryllis – Name: Greek   amarysso = to sparkle

This is the type genus for the Family Amaryllidaceae. The genus Amaryllis includes two to four species of bulbs native to the Winter rainfall area of South Africa. The large bulbs produce flower stems before the appearance of the leaves.

The name Amaryllis is also commmonly and incorrectly used in horticulture for cultivated hybrid bulbs that should be known as Hippeastrum.

Clivia – Named for: Lady Charlotte Florentia Clive, Duchess of Northumberland 1787-1866

Six species of large bulbs with strap-like leaves and showy heads of large trumpet-shaped flowers. Their natural habitat is in the understory of South-African forests where their fleshy roots enjoy the ample, free-draining leaf-litter and leaf mould.

Clivias generally prefer light shade to full sun and a very open potting mix. The leaves of Clivias are prone to burn if exposed to full, mid-day sun. Composted bark e.g. Orchid compost is preferable to a soil-based mix. A cool, dry winter promotes flowering but the plants must be kept frost-free. Numerous hybrids have been made with “improved” flowers from white and shades of yellow, orange and red to saturated colours. Leaves of modern cultivars vary in width and variegation.

Cyrtanthus – Fire Lilies

This is a large genus of about 60 species of small bulbs from South Africa, including species from moist stream banks to dry desert. Flowers are tubular or trumpet-shaped in shades of red and yellow to white and often sweetly scented. The common name reflects the rapid appearance and flowering of several species including C. contractus, C. ventricosus, C. odorus after bush fires.

There are both Winter-growing and Summer-growing species of Cyrtanthus. Watering needs to be sensitive to their growth habit. Other species are evergreen and need water throughout the year. Cyrtanthus elatus = Vallota speciosa (Scarborough Lily) is widely grown for the cut flower market.

Crinum – Name: Greek Krinon = white lily

This genus of large bulbs (60 – 100 species) is popular for the fragrant, funnel-shaped flowers of many of its species. Members of the genus are distributed through the tropics worldwide, but most are in sub-Saharan Africa. These plants should be regarded as poisonous.

Scadoxus – Rafinesqu – Blood Lilies

Nine species of bulbs with spherical umbels of red flowers, usually with narrow petals. The thin leaves are lanceolate, often narrowing at the base to form a sheath. All species are from tropical to Southern Africa with two species from the South African Cape.

The genus Haemanthus has been combined with Scadoxus in the past but is now considered separate (Friis & Nordal 1976 ) on the basis of chromosome numbers, some species with rhizomeatous roots or thin leaves with distinct midribs. The popular greenhouse bulb Scadoxus multiflorus is sometimes labelled as H. multiflorus.

Scadoxus cinnabarinus and Scadoxus multiflorus are traditional components of arrow and fish poisons and should not be eaten or given to livestock.