March 12th, 2008
Hippeastrum papilio, butterfly amaryllis

amaryllis papillio
2008-03-12. My butterfly amaryllis finally rebloomed. It’s been a long, long wait.

The butterfly amaryllis is quite striking. I would say that it has been worth the wait, except…more than seven years! I’d love it just as much if it bloomed every year. Really, dear, I would.

amaryllis papillio

A native of Brazil, my butterfly amaryllis has never gone dormant, although it looks a bit ratty after a long, hot Austin summer. I’ve heard some advice that Austinites can plant them in the ground as we do our more hardy Hippeastrums, the St. Joseph’s lilies. I don’t think I’ll bet against the Texas weather.

Garden History

At Gardens buy the amaryllis that I first saw and liked in the catalog. [2011-01-24. Maybe I actually got this from Dutch Gardens. I find a label for one with this description. Or maybe Gardens was carrying bulbs from Dutch Gardens.]

“Brightly striped maroon and ivory petals with a chartreuse background.”

Pot it, after soaking the bulb in sea weed mix.

First flower opens completely.

Last day of bloom.

Divide the butterfly amaryllis into two pots. It was incredibly pot bound. I’ve heard that they prefer to be pot bound, but I don’t think they mean like this. I had to rip out a lot of roots to separate them.
amaryllis papillio
2006-09-06. The butterfly amaryllis and three daughters sit on top of the pot they were in.

First flower.

by M Sinclair Stevens

26 Responses to post “Hippeastrum papilio, butterfly amaryllis”

  1. From our friend Ben in Pennsylvania:

    Great post! They *are* beautiful, aren’t they? Your potbound picture made me feel a little better, but I’m still reeling from the thought of growing them in the ground like a “real” plant. Guess it should have dawned on me before now that they must grow in the ground somewhere, eh? Sheesh. Mine are just now coming into bloom–they spend the winter in the greenhouse, and have long since forgotten that they’re supposed to be Christmas plants.

    In Austin, the ground never freezes. I’m more worried about them getting wilted and sunburned in our summer heat. I usually bring the pots inside in the summer because I enjoy the foliage. Maybe the reason it blooms so rarely is because it isn’t getting enough sun inside. — mss

  2. From Janet (Oxfordshire, UK):

    That is one of the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen! Thanks for sharing with the rest of us!!!

    My pleasure. I should take another photo to show how large the flowers are–bigger than my two fists put together. — mss

  3. From vertie:

    Wow, I can certainly see why you would want that amaryllis to bloom every year. It’s beautiful!


  4. From Julie (Austin):

    Gorgeous. Looks like a trophy, due to you for seven years of patience and care. Could it possibly be that some amaryllis plants (like some trees) come into flower only in multi-year cycles?

    I think it’s more likely that I didn’t feed it appropriately or give it the amount of sunlight it craved. It’s just been stuck in a pot for seven years without much pampering from me. I think it’s responded in kind. — mss

  5. From Annie in Austin:

    It’s wild and gorgeous, MSS! No wonder you were willing to wait for it to bloom.

    I don’t have St Joseph’s lily, but I planted all my old amaryllis-hippeastrum outside a couple of years ago because there’s no room inside and I was tired of fooling around with them. Most lived and I’ve had some rebloom from these inexpensive bulbs bought at home centers to brighten up a Christmas table.

    I wouldn’t have taken that chance with such a special, exotic bulb like yours!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

    I might experiment with the daughter bulbs and plant them in a protected corner on the south side of the house. — mss

  6. From joey:

    Beautiful amaryllis photos. I do believe your Hippeastrum butterfly amaryllis) was worth the LONG wait. You must have great patience!

    Well, it never required much from me. It just sat in its pot being green. I’m always thankful for any plant that doesn’t die on me. So rather than think, “Gee, this isn’t doing anything so I might as well toss it.” I was just grateful that it had nice foliage. — mss

  7. From Yolanda Elizabet:

    The butterfly amaryllis is indeed a very beautiful flower but 7 years is a very, very long wait. In the Netherlands most people just throw away the bulb once the Amaryllis has finished flowering and I have done so too. So picture my surprise when I read on many a garden blog how people keep their bulbs and expect them to produce flowers year after year.

    I bought this bulb for $15–in those days the same price as a rose bush. So, I wasn’t going to toss that kind of investment. I would never have spent that kind of money if I thought it was a one-time bloomer. — mss

  8. From Diana Kirby - Austin:

    Wow. That’s stunning, and I’d agree with you — well worth the wait. My other amaryllis bloom each year, and they are so pretty. I have put them in the ground successfully, in spots where they get dappled shade and not hot afternoon sun and they’ve been pretty happy when the $%^*@ deer don’t EAT them!

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’ll try that with the daughter bulbs, then. I am more worried about the heat than the cold. Luckily, I don’t have any deer problems–just raccoons, possums, and armadillos. — mss

  9. From Jan:

    What a beautiful flower. I have seen these in catalogs, maybe I will order one now that I have seen yours. I plant all my amaryllis in the ground after they bloom the first time. I have never had a problem losing them as long as they have good drainage. As a matter of fact, I am going to have to divide some soon because they have multiplied.

    Jan Always Growing

  10. From kate:

    This is a beautiful flower and well worth the seven-year wait. The leaves also make a good foliage plant. It would be interesting to see how the daughter plants fare if you were to try planting one outdoors.

    I’m now entertaining visions of raccoons, possums and armadillos running through the garden …

  11. From Carol, May Dreams Gardens:

    That is a gorgeous flower. Flowers like these are why we garden, aren’t they?

    It is true that “good things come to those who wait”. You have certainly been awarded for your patience. I am one of those who tosses her amaryllis after they bloom for the holidays, but this year I’m going to put them outside for the summer, and see if I can get some rebloom.

  12. From Anna of RavenCroft:

    Yikes! What a magnificent flower! I’ve grown some amaryllis, but I’ve never seen a butterfly amaryllis before. Great article and terrific photos. Thanks for sharing!

    Thanks for stopping by and taking a moment to leave a comment. — mss

  13. From Ki:

    We grew some Papilios too but they were not as highly colored as yours are. Don’t know what accounts for the difference – climate? Wonderful photo. I could never seem to capture a good photo of one.

    I too just heard that they like to be root bound though we put three bulbs in a 12″ diameter clay pot which was about 15″ tall and they managed to fill the pot with roots by summers end.

    Maybe the color is just because I put the pot in the sunlight to take the photo. It was partially backlit by the setting sun. — mss

  14. From Rufino Osorio in Florida:

    This plant did exceedingly well when planted in the ground in south Florida and in a few years formed a huge mass consisting of about 2-3 dozen fully sized bulbs and many more smaller bulbs. It flowered the first year it was in the ground but never again. My feeling is that it needs to be root-bound for it to flower well. Since it was grown in an open, sunny area, there was nothing to confine the roots and the plant thus never flowered.

    Thanks for sharing your observation. That’s an interesting theory. I think I will test it by planting two of them in the ground and leaving two in pots. — mss

  15. From G.E. Forest Lake Minnesota:

    I recieved a blooming butterfly amaryllis 2 years ago . The pots were so full they were no longer round. Transplanted them they stay nice and green. In the summer I put them outside on the north side of the house in their pots, bring them in and put them in a south window. If they only bloom every 7 years I have a long wait. But they are beautiful!!!!!

    I doubt you’ll have to wait as long as I did. I’m going to plant mine in the ground where they’ll be happier and maybe bloom more often. — mss

  16. From S.M. St Paul,Minnesota:

    I give mine a large pot. It has bloomed each year after I take it in in the fall. This year it is blooming now in Sept. the mother plant has 1 bloom as does one of the babies. (offshoots) I still think it will bloom again this fall. I give the hippies some sun, fertilizer and fast draining soil. Very nice photo!

  17. From Bill Payne Michigan:

    Are Papilio amaryllis supposed NOT to go dormant like the Hippeastrums are supposed to?

  18. From Kavanaru, Switzerland:

    Wow! great blooming!! I hope my plant would od the same some day 🙁

    I am also interested to know whether you give your plant a rest or not? The selection you normally find in Europe is supposed to be more or less evergreen, with no need of dormancy. Indeed, I have kept my plant this way for two years, and have not seen any flowers so far… It just grows and the pot is really bound (one mother and 3 daughter plants – similar to your picture)

    This year I just decided to go for the aggresive treatment and under the “either you bloom or you go to the trash!” method: I cut off all leave and stopped watering since September. Water will not be re-started until I get this plant blooming…

    let’s see… 😉

  19. From Toni in Central California:

    I gave my Mom a Butterfly amaryllis several years ago. She kept it as a houseplant in Idaho, and I THINK I remember her saying that it never bloomed again after the first year.

    Last July, she had to go into a nursing home. I took cuttings of her beloved hoyas and hauled a 7-foot ponytail palm home to California in the backseat of my compact car.

    I also brought the Butterfly. I cut the greenery back to bulbtop and pulled it from its pot to transport. I am ashamed to say that after I got it home, I kinda forgot about it for a few months – it was in a paper sack, and the roots got all dried out. But I potted it up in late January, and now – mid-March – it has two 18-inch bloom stalks about to open (although only two very small leaf straps – what’s up with that?).

    So I do believe you must force them by cutting them back and withholding water – at least, that’s what I’ve always heard about all amaryllis. Have you ever cut yours?

    I’ve read that elsewhere but I’ve also heard people counter that amaryllis doesn’t go dormant in its native habitat. Creating dormancy to force it to flower might be necessary for pot culture. However, I gave up with pots last year and put all my amaryllis in the ground. We’ll see how that goes. — mss

  20. From Joyce V ,Central Florida:

    A friend of mine (who is not a gardener) had a mound of bulbs in her yard (were there when she bought her condo) literally growing on top of one another, no apparent foliage. I thought they looked like amaryllis, took one home and a year later discovered I had Papilio Amaryllis. I have since gone back and taken the remainder of the mound, and for the past two years have enjoyed these wonderful flowers. Mine are planted in the ground. We had an exceptionally cold winter this year in Central Florida (down to 26 degrees). The Papilio survived.

    Just discovered your site, and it’s wonderful!

  21. From klg:

    I have three pots of these and grow them north of Tulsa OK. They show multiple blooms every year. The oldest pot now has 7 bulbs. It is flowering right now 9/15/2009. One flower during the summer is not unusual but most flowers are in the winter. They spend all summer out in the sun and well watered. They spend the winter inside in a bright but sunless window.

  22. From Vanessa-Maryland:

    I purchased a Butterfly (Papillio) Amaryllis from a catalog for $19.95 in October 1996. It has always produced beautiful foliage and offsets but, has never bloomed. The ad said the foliage does not die back and mine never did until this year. So, I’ve never given it a rest like my others.

    When I repotted it for the first time last year, it was so potbound I couldn’t see any soil. I repotted and new folige has appeared but still-no blooms. I purchased another ($15.00)3 years ago from a local garden center. Again foliage but no blooms.

    I now have six bulbs-3 to a pot.I think I’ll try giving one a rest this year unless someone,who can imagine my disappointment, can help me. Due to the weather here, I can’t leave it outside all year. I put it outside in a shady area on my deck for the summer and bring it in in the winter. I feed it, water it, and give it plenty of sun and TLC but still-no blooms.

    I don’t have any helpful advice. Mine grew for 7 years without flowering. And it hasn’t flowered again since these photos. Why not give it more sun in the summer and see if that helps? — mss

  23. From Karen Reynolds Montana:

    I bought my butterfly from Wayside Gardens in either 1988 or ’89 and it was shipped to Alaska at that time. It has bloomed twice. I have written to Wayside and they gave me the standard amaryllis advice: water, fertilize and rest. I quit watering it in September this year and became impatient in November and cut off the rest of the foliage. It is now growing like crazy but no flower stalks. (January) This thing is drop dead gorgeous when it blooms. Wayside said it liked to be pot bound and have lots of pups. Mine has a HUGE number of pups. I don’t know what to do to make this bloom. It bloomed when we were in Alaska for two years (after about three years) and hasn’t bloomed since. Anyone else out there who might have a suggestion? Thanks

  24. From Keith:

    I bought my Butterfly Amaryllis in the late 80’s as well from Wayside Gardens mail division. I currently have the main bulb and about 5 babies in the pot. The first baby was destroyed by a worm last year; otherwise I would have two large bulbs. I am getting ready to repot into a bigger pot and was searching to see what kind of potting soil. I have never repotted this flower and it is looking kinda sad right now. It has also never flowered. I kept it in my sun room for about 10 years, but now I have a partially sunny deck that it live on during late spring and summer.

    I believe I will remove the bulbs from the pot and let it die back. Maybe I will have a bloom for Christmas, just as I had planned over 20 years ago!

    It also sounds like I need to start feeding it more regularly as well.

    Thanks for the tips, encouragement and the lovely photo. I am ready to make this thing bloom!!!

  25. From Berni, Wisconsin:

    This is my absolute favorite amaryllis and I’m so excited to have 4 bloom stalks in my pot of 3 bulbs. I started with 1 bulb from Dutch Gardens at least 15 years ago and have had only a few blooms. This exotic beauty is such a Prima Donna but the rare bloom is worth waiting for. I’m not quite sure why it’s doing so well now but I had it in the garden (out of pot) all summer and then couldn’t get it back into it’s old rather shallow pot. Also found it impossible to separate even the small bulbs so I gave up and put it all into a wider and very tall pot with lots of fresh potting mix. This triggered lots of new leaves and in Holland I was told that an Amaryllis needs to grow at least 5 leaves to produce a bloom stalk. That being said, my Papillio has grown dozens of leaves that haven’t triggered a bloom. This time was magical though. And surprisingly this poor plant was left to fend for itself from mid Dec. to mid Jan. with the thermostat at 55 and no water (though the potting mix retained moisture pretty well). What a surprise to come home to 4 bloom stalks! This fickle plant just seems to want to do it’s own thing on it’s own terms. Now it appears that it’s going to bloom when I’m out of town again. Little does it know that it’s going to get bundled up (huge pot and all) and thrown into the car along with me and my camera. Can’t wait!

    I think it actually does better when it dries out and goes dormant for awhile. Thanks for sharing your experience. — mss

  26. From Linnea, Oregon:

    I planted 3 bulbs 3 years ago in a 9″ pot. It lives in a North-facing window and gets a good amount of light. Lots of wonderful foliage. They bloomed well the first year (but not since) and have produced 1 baby. Because it is an “evergreen” variety, I have never withheld water or let them go dormant. Last Fall it seemed to need renewing so I cut all the leaves back and it has resurged better than ever, but still no bloom stalks. It’s too hot in the Summer here to take it outside, but I’m thinking (after reading all the great posts) that I should let it go dormant this summer. Any suggestions?