Why two names you may ask? There has been much heated debate regarding the matter amongst some of the world’s leading botanists and for centuries. The confusion surrounding the two genera stems from their complex history dating back to the 18th Century. The true identity of these colorful blooms is still regarded as a gray area among the experts. This beautiful winter flower we all love, with lush petals and warm vivid colors is not, as it is most widely known, the Amaryllis, but rather the Hippeastrum.
The true Amaryllis is a bulb from South Africa with only one species in the genus Amaryllis Belladonna. Hippeastrum are from Central and South America with 90 species and over 600 cultivars in the genus and these are the flowers commercially sold at Christmas. It took botanists from both sides of the Atlantic half a century to reach this decision, which was ruled at the 14th International Botanical Congress in 1987. Even now the name Amaryllis is most commonly used to describe Hippeastrum.
As an aside the name Hippeastrum was coined by English botanist, the Reverend William Herbert, and comes from the Greek hippeus (knight) and astron (star) after the resemblance of the flower to the ‘knight’s star’, a medieval weapon.
Over the generations horticulturists have described the amaryllis as a haughty plant because, in spite of the most intensive care, very often they fail to flower.
In the language of flowers, they represent pride and haughtiness.