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Amaryllis Featured in Arboretum Exhibit

By Alfredo Flores
December 12, 2003

The popular holiday plant known as amaryllis is being featured in a two-month exhibit at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington, D.C. Hundreds of lovely amaryllis in full bloom are on display there now, including unusual species and dazzling new hybrids.

The exhibit also features interpretive displays that include a historical retrospective on the role played by the Agricultural Research Service in developing this important ornamental crop. ARS, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's primary scientific research agency, administers the arboretum.

In 2001, indoor forcing bulbs such as the amaryllis were purchased by 8.5 million U.S. households.

One of the foremost amaryllis experts, Alan W. Meerow, a plant geneticist at the ARS Subtropical Horticulture Research Station in Miami, Fla., will be discussing the development of amaryllis on Saturday, Dec. 13, at 10 a.m. in the auditorium of the arboretum's administration building. He will explain the merits, uses and care of this easy-to-grow holiday bulb. When properly handled, an amaryllis bulb may produce flowers year after year.

Amaryllis species belong to the genus Hippeastrum and have large, bell-shaped or lily-like flowers in a wide range of flower colors. Very large, robust blooms and beautiful textures add to their appeal.

While working for the University of Florida's Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center, Meerow created three new amaryllis cultivars--named "Bahia," "Rio" and "Sampa"--in 1987. The three are complex hybrids of H. papilio and exhibit novel floral coloration patterns. "Bahia" has an unusual color pattern of red, tipped with white, while "Rio" is intensely fragrant and "Sampa" is a semi-dwarf that bears up to 10 flowers on each stem. All three are also resistant to red scorch, a plant disease that causes red spots on leaves, flower stems and flowers. Red scorch often deforms leaves or stems and forms large, red blotches in the bulb that rot easily.

Additional information on the U.S. National Arboretum, its amaryllis display and its hours can be found on the World Wide Web at: