Robust naked lady a late summer stunner

Amaryllis Belladonna. Photo: Christine O'Connor
Amaryllis Belladonna. Photo: Christine O'Connor
A sign that perhaps the long days of summer are behind us is the emerging buds of Amaryllis belladonna.

The large pink or white flowers are often seen in home gardens, where it grows easily in a sunny, dry spot. Ideal conditions are provided under the eaves of the house especially up against a sunbaked brick wall. It also does well in pots, where it can be displayed when flowering and hidden away when dormant.

Influential botanist Carl Linnaeus romantically named the plant after Amaryllis, the beautiful Greek nymph, and the Italian words for beautiful lady; bella donna. Then, because the flowers are produced on top of a tall leafless stem, modern gardeners gave it the common name of naked lady.

Not to be confused with the similar Hippeastrum, a tender indoor bulb with the synonym Amaryllis, naked lady is almost indestructible. In its natural habitat in the Western Cape of South Africa Amaryllis grows in rocky, sunny places. The fragrant inflorescence grows to 50cm-80cm and tends to face the direction of the sun.

The general rule with most bulbs is to plant them at twice their depth. Amaryllis is one exception in that they should sit with their neck at or slightly above the soil surface. Once flowering is over, the strap-like leaves emerge from the large bulb and persist throughout the winter. Clumps may be divided just after flowering before the leaves emerge.

Amaryllis is flowering in the Rock Garden and Southern African Garden at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

Garden Life is produced by Dunedin Botanic Garden. For further information contact Robyn Abernethy.

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