Monday, December 22, 2014
The afternoon of the past dreary Sunday was punctuated by the Winter Solstice… that moment in time when the promise of Spring emerges as each day becomes longer. Our question for December may well be “Sun, Sun, where art thou?”
The Queen of all bulbs, the exquisite Amaryllis, is now making an appearance everywhere. She is traditionally a guest at Christmas celebrations, and with good reason for historically speaking she has quite a colorful reputation.
As serious exploration began in the 16th and 17th centuries, botanical specimens were among the most coveted acquisitions brought home to Europe. Consequently even today there remains controversy over exactly who discovered the Amaryllis and from which continent it originated. Botanical debate claimed it was from Africa while other botanists insisted it came from South America. Regardless of origin, this exquisite flower had an immediate cult following and legend arose to explain her deep scarlet color.
As with so many of our flowers, Amaryllis has both Greek and Roman lore attached to her and the poets Theocritus (3rd century BC) and Virgil (70 BC) both wrote she was a shy nymph of great resolve. Amaryllis fell in love with a popular shepherd reputed to be as handsome as Apollo and as strong as Hercules; he was a rock star of the day and unimpressed by her attentions. Hoping to quell her embarrassing adoration, he gave her the impossible task of finding him a flower that never before existed. Amaryllis consulted the Oracle at Delphi and was instructed to walk to his home and pierce her heart with a golden arrow, allowing her blood to flow. For thirty nights she did so and from her spilled blood the flower with crimson petals appeared.
And once again Napoleon’s Josephine made a flower famous by commissioning a painting of one and the English Poet Laureate, Lord Alfred Tennyson, included her in a poem. Our own Thomas Jefferson mentioned an Amaryllis in his diary in 1811... All of which are quite illustrious mentions for a flower!
These precious bulbs, once available to only wealthy elitist, through time and progress are now affordable. Available in a wide array of colors which include not only the traditional scarlet, but white, deep pink, orange, shades of salmon, pink, and rose, Amaryllis makes a welcome guest at every celebration. Rather than forcing your own, perhaps purchase one that has already sprouted and needs a loving home. Merry Christmas!