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‘Naked lady Lily’

By Sereba Agiobu-Kemmer
09 March 2019   |   3:19 am
The “ Naked lady plant”, “March lilies”, botanical name Amaryllis belladonna species (family Amaryllidaceae), is a plant species native to the floral southern-western Cape Province of South Africa, but widely cultivated as an ornamental worldwide. Due to its extremely exquisite nature, this lovely plant species has found its way to many destinations and is reportedly…

Amaryllis belladonna in situ in the rocky fynbos- its natural habitat , South West Cape Province, S. Africa<br />

The “ Naked lady plant”, “March lilies”, botanical name Amaryllis belladonna species (family Amaryllidaceae), is a plant species native to the floral southern-western Cape Province of South Africa, but widely cultivated as an ornamental worldwide.

Due to its extremely exquisite nature, this lovely plant species has found its way to many destinations and is reportedly naturalized in Mediterranean climates throughout the world in other countries of Africa, like Nigeria, in Australia, Haiti, Mexico, in places like Portugal, Italy, California, Texas, Louisiana the Juan Fernandez Islands, Azores, Madeira, Canary Islands, Ascension Island, Zaire, and more.

Amaryllis belladonna is one of the two species in the genius Amaryllidaceae and in fact one of them only recently discovered. A second species Amaryllis paradisicola idiscovered in 1998, is not in general cultivation.

Belladonna is Latin meaning beautiful lady. There are many common names around the world: belladonna lily, March lily, Naked lady lily, march lily (English) in the Acores, Portugal one name is Meninas Para Escola ‘girls going to school’, referring to the flowers blooming when the girls in their pink uniforms are starting the new school year.

In Nigeria the common name is Harmattan lilies because the flowers bloom[ng coincide with the harmattan season (from November to March, April); they are called Marrtblom, Maartlelie, belladonnalelie (Afrikaans) in South Africa.

Many Amaryllis selections have been made, and the species has also been heavily hybridized with related genera for more than a century. An example of these is xAmarcrinum a hybrid between Amaryllis and Crinum lily.

The family Amaryllidaceae forms a large group of over sixty genera, which are mainly centered in the Southern Africa with smaller distribution in the Andean South America.

Other genera that belongs to this family that have horticultural importance and are found in Southern Africa (and Africa) include Clivia, Crinum, Cyrthantus, Nerine, Hippeastrum, which some gardeners mistakenly call Amaryllis, is a large Southern American genus.

Other northern hemisphere genera include Narcissus (daffodils) and Leucojum. Amaryllis is Greek feminine and is named after a beautiful shepherdess.

The appearance of the tall, flower stalk without any leaves accounts for the common name “naked lady” This strange phenomenon of flowering before the leaves appear is known as hysteranthy. The belladonna lily is summer-dormant and blooms in the winter period.

Its specific flowering time in this region is during the Harmattan season that starts late November and last until March/April.

The perennial bulbous geophyte with one or two erect solid stems about 2 feet tall. They bear 2 to 12 showy fragrant funnel-shaped flowers with individual flowers opening over a period of a couple of weeks with plants blooming at slightly different times.

Summer fires, clearing away the weeds and other plant debris over them and / or summer thundershowers, may stimulate flowering or coming of the dry Harmattan winds.

The flowers appear before the strap-shaped green leaves , which grows on after the flowers have died down. The leaves produce a starch which is stored in the bulb.

The flowers are pink/peach to white, which may be up to 10cm in length and epically flare open about 8cm.

Protruding from each flower is a long upturned style amongst a group of large curved anthers. The anthers are black and shiny at first, but split open to reveal masses of sticky white pollen.

The inflorescence tends to face the direction that receives most sun. Although the most flowers are pale pink, white and dark pink forms occur.

There is still some mystery as to what pollinates the Amaryllis belladonna lilies.

Rudolf Marloth, a famous amateur botanist, believed that the ‘Harmattan lily’ was being pollinated by a hawk moth, it was also noticed that large carpenter bees visited the flowers during the day.

On the Cape peninsula in South Africa and other parts of the world, it seems that bees are the main pollinators.

Amaryllis belladonna in its natural habitat is found in small dense groups among rocks. Therefore the best place to plant them would be in a rock garden.

In a created landscape, Amaryllis can be used in between blue Agapanthus as a good combination, as the evergreen leaves of the Agapanthus provides skirts for the ‘naked ladies.’ They can also be grown between a ground cover or mixed annual or herbaceous border. They may be used as edging along paved paths/walkways.

Growing Amaryllis belladonna

Propagation: from seeds and bulbs

People have said the bulb need to stick out of the ground, some water may help, but a period of dry dormancy you hear is also helpful.

Plants grow in the ground and in pots and plants growing in full sun are more likely to bloom than ones in the shade.

The bulbs are best planted just below the surface of the soil, with the neck of the bulb level with the surface.

In colder climates mulching or lifting and overwintering period is required. The bulbs may be propagated from offsets. Amaryllis bulbs require little watering and are drought tolerant.

Most bulb species should be planted when they are dormant (no leaves), but not with Amaryllis and their relatives. The best time to transplant Amaryllis is just after they bloom, as the leaves are starting to emerge.

Bulbs can be transplanted at other times, but often will not flower for a few years afterwards. Give the bulbs a good soaking at bloom time so the soil will be soft, and then dig them up as the blooms fade.

Save as many as you can. Separate the clumps gently, and plant bulbs into a new spot that has also been watered so the soil is ready for them. If you transplant while bulbs are dormant, they may not flower for a year or two.

The cultivation of Amaryllis belladonna requires very little attention Amaryllis belladonna can be grown from seed.

The soft fleshy white to pink pea-sized seed should be planted when fresh. Dispersal of seed is normally by wind.

Seed dispersal is timed to coincide with the first rain in late March and April. Germination may occur in two weeks, but seedlings require three to six years or longer to flower.

The bulbs and offsets can be planted immediately. The bulbs must be planted with their necks at soil level.

The belladonna lily can be grown in large pots using a very porous soil mix. The bulb can also tolerate quite arid conditions.

In cultivation flowers are produced almost every year but in the wild they emerged prolifically after fires.

Pests and Diseases
A highly destructive black and yellow striped caterpillar called lily borer often attacks Amaryllis belladonna.

The caterpillar bores into the leaves and stem of the lily causing the flowering stem to collapse.

The caterpillar eventually enters the bulb. The caterpillars can be removed by hand or the affected foliage can be cut off.