Why Is the Amaryllis Flower Related to Christmas?

Overview

Red and white amaryllis flowers are commonly associated with the Christmas season. Amaryllis growing kits appear in retail stores in early December and include all supplies needed to grow a blooming amaryllis flower. Kits commonly feature colorful red or lacy white blossoms and specialized vases or pots, which can be given as Christmas gifts or used as holiday decorations.

Significance

Many festive varieties of amaryllis are available, some with stories that can be associated with Christmas themes. A hybrid amaryllis, 'St. Joseph's Staff,' was introduced in the 16th century, according to online resource The African Garden. St. Joseph's Staff is a reference to the legend that St. Joseph was chosen to become husband to the Virgin Mary after his staff sprouted amaryllis flowers during the selection process conducted by a high priest. The name, amaryllis, is derived from the Greek word that means "to sparkle," and its botanical name, Hippeastrum, is Greek for "knight star."

Characteristics

Amaryllis has large, bright, trumpet-shaped blooms. Some amaryllis feature blooms that reach 10 inches wide. A tropical flower native to South America and South Africa, many hybrid amaryllis varieties are also grown in Holland. The most common bloom colors at Christmas are red and white, but the flowers can also be found in pink, orange and salmon. The bulbs sold at Christmas are from the genus Hippeastrum, but can be confused with another amaryllis variety known as Belladonna Lily.

Christmas Blooms

Amaryllis is popular at Christmas due to the colorful blooms that brighten up a winter landscape. The immense red and white blooms are well-suited for Christmas gifts and the showy blossoms enhance holiday decorations. A popular variety of Christmas amaryllis is the 'Fire Dance' which blooms in vibrant red, according to Colorado State University Extension. For snow-white blossoms, try the aptly named cultivar 'Christmas Gift.' The amaryllis is easy to grow and will bloom throughout the holiday season if it is kept out of direct sunlight.

Forcing Blooms

Amaryllis normally bloom in the spring but can be forced to bloom in time for Christmas. Store the plant in a dark area beginning the first of August and let it rest for up to 12 weeks. Do not water during this period and remove foliage after it is dry. Bring the plant out of its dark resting area the first of November and place it in bright light, then water thoroughly. It should take about four to six weeks for blooms to appear.

Warning

Similar to the poinsettia, another popular Christmas flower, amaryllis is poisonous. Amaryllis contains lycorine, a toxin that affects humans and animals. The most poisonous part of the plant is the bulb which causes illness only if eaten in large quantities. Symptoms of poisoning from amaryllis include vomiting, diarrhea and tremors. If you are using the plant as a Christmas decoration, consider placing it in an area that is out of reach to children and animals.

Keywords: Christmas blooming plants, Blooming plants, Forcing amaryllis bulbs

About this Author

Based in the foothills near Golden, Colo., Mel Primmer started writing professionally in 2010. Her current writing experience includes educational profiles for Remilon, LLC and travel articles for eHow. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of Colorado.