Saturday, April 18, 2009

Grandma's Amaryllis

When I was a child, sixty years ago or so, Grandma had a potted amaryllis plant. When it bloomed, the dramatic salmon trumpets were the subject of many oohs and aahs.

Years went by. Grandma died. Mom adopted the amaryllis. Mom died. My sister adopted the amaryllis and offered me a baby bulb from the parent bulb. I planted it, fertilized and watered. Let it die back in a cool, dark place in the fall, then brought it into the house in late winter to let it sprout again.

The first year it produced one long, lash of a leaf. The second year, there were two leaves. The third and maybe the fourth year there were three leaves. If you've never lived with an amaryllis, you may not realize that after it dies back in the winter, it looks like a dead onion. Then somehow, without light, it knows that spring is approaching, and sends up a fat, pointy green tongue. If you bring it into the house, into heat and light, it grows at an amazing rate --- about an inch a day --- until there are a few thick, broad leaves two or three feet long.

This year, Grandma's amaryllis surpassed itself with four leaves, but the middle of the crown was empty. Then I noticed something coming up from the outside of the crown. A bud! My clone of Grandma's amaryllis was going to bloom for the first time!

The stem got longer and longer, thicker and thicker. Soon I could see that there were two buds inside a tight green case. The case opened and died back. The two buds separated and swelled noticeably bigger each day. I thought it might bloom on Easter, but it expanded even more without opening. I began to see color. The suspense was was akin to watching someone blow up a balloon and expecting it to pop any second. On Thursday morning, I blew gently on the swollen bud, and within ten minutes, it had opened. Now both blossoms are arched dramatically over the dining room table where I can watch the stamens and pistil engage in the subtle choreography of fertilization.

It takes patience to be the keeper of an amaryllis, but the process is fascinating and incredibly beautiful.


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