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by Ruby Weinberg

by Ruby Weinberg

The potted plant sat in my niece and nephew's Florida home like a reject from a rummage sale. Tossed about from room to room, it was rarely even watered. Its dull basal leaves plus occasional flower stems and few non-descript blooms were largely ignored. But nobody got around to tossing it. My relatives then moved to another house with a large lovely garden of established plants and many broadleaf evergreens. With their move completed, this ugly duckling was finally planted in a shady area.

Six months after their move when we visited with the couple, we were all surprised and delighted at the beautiful appearance of this plant. "What on earth is its name?" they asked me.

With the help of the web, I quickly identified it as Eucharis grandiflora (sometimes listed as E. amazonica), the Amazon lily. Its original home is in South America. I read that in our northern U.S. states, two or three bulbs of these lily relatives can be planted in a pot and brought indoors in winter as they cannot take temperatures lower than 20 degrees F. Following this advice, would I end up with an ugly duckling?

The following year, when visiting again with our relatives in their new home, they were excited over the same plant that had grown considerably and now sported a broad span of deep green leaves centered with 7-10 flowering stems. How impressive was this lovely transformation! Interestingly, the occasional brief mid-winter freezes common in many parts of Florida do not seem to bother eucharis at all.

At its peak, a well grown plant will have many large, oval shaped leaves several inches wide surrounding 24-inch stems topped by terminal clusters of from 3 to 6 showy fragrant flowers. Individual blooms are about 3 inches wide. The tiny center of most of the flowers is a delicate green. The general appearance of the blooms is that of narcissus (daffodils). Like them, if desired, Amazon lily flowering stems may be cut for their long-lasting blooms.

But must this plant be grown in a subtropical climate to be successful? And, in the Mid-Atlantic states, do they require a greenhouse? I read further.

While perpetual neglect will not completely kill the plant, as my relatives observed, given only a modicum of care, Amazon lily bulbs can make splendid two or three seasonally blooming specimens. Nobody can claim that for a daffodil!

Knowing what to expect and following a few guide lines for mid-Atlantic gardeners, the results should be excellent. In our winters, an indoor pot or two of eucharis does best in an eastern exposure rather than west, where it can soak up light from the morning sun. By mid-winter, the plant will go through a short period of dormancy even in the sub-tropics, and so, to get it to bloom later, let the soil go dry for about a month. Inadvertently, that is precisely what my relatives had done! As the days grow longer, the Amazon lily will come back to life.

With the first sign of movement, slowly begin a watering schedule...light at first, then heavy. This is also the time to mix into the soil a slow release fertilizer such as Osmocote. With luck, expect the delightful flowers to appear in early March, and with very good luck, a repeat performance in early May and again in September. Be certain that the water you use is first slightly warmed. And then, too, if your plant has been in a southern or western exposure, move it now to the east. A full sunny location may result in faded green leaves--a reaction to too much light. Think: Amazon...rain forest--giant trees creating shade, and you'll know that dappled shade is much to the liking of these plants. Do remember that a temperature from 60 to 80 degrees F. suits them best, and that your usual method of adding humidity to the environment is much appreciated.

If you are able to purchase loose bulbs, plant 2 or 3 in a 6-8 inch pot, and like Amaryllis bulbs, position them with their necks just above the soil surface. Don't be in a hurry to separate each bulb and plant the biggest in a larger container. They can stay put for several years crowded into one pot. Transplanting to individual pots, I'm told, will probably set them back a bit, but in time, they should recover.

If you order bulbs in early spring, you may be able to purchase them in a container, one bulb to a small pot. Perhaps you might like to use eucharis later as a temporary landscape feature. One possibility is to plant one or two bulbs in front of taller shrubs in the same way as you might use summer flowering shading loving annuals such as impatiens. Or surround your specimens with hostas. Or arrange one or more pots on the patio along with your other subtropical potted plants in summer.

Do keep an eye open for the common pests that that sometimes attack plants..slugs, spider mites and mealy bugs, and treat with an insecticide before the damage goes too far.

Due to their scarcity, the bulbs may be a little expensive to purchase. Aye. There’s the rub! It looks like they have been under-appreciated for many years, perhaps replaced by bulbs such as Amaryllis and, thus, not commonly available. It may take a little persistence to locate them, but there are a few merchants who occasionally offer eucharis, and it is well worth a search for healthy bulbs. There is also a hybrid called E. 'Christine', which is said to be a little more compact.

Having seen an Amazon lily at its best in my niece and nephew's Florida garden, I might best describe it as graceful, sophisticated, and somehow, sensual. Uncommon bulbs such as this could become exciting additions to almost any home and garden, and I can scarcely wait to receive mine in the mail.

Got success stories with eucharis?
Let us know: publisher@dig-itmag.com
Gardino Nursery: www.rareflora.com/
McClure and Zimmerman: www.mzbulb.com/
Glasshouse Works: www.glasshouseworks.com/pageone.html

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published February 19, 2012

Photos to enlarge

A nice clump of eucharis in the garden. Photo by Martin Weinberg

Buds and blooms, Martin Weinberg photo

Eucharis grandiflora blossoms, Photo courtesy Gardino Nursery

Eucharis bulbs as they arrived. Martin Weinberg photo

Eucharis bulbs just planted. Martin Weinberg photo

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