As the holiday season approaches, what’s on the menu is in focus more than what’s in the garden. However, indoor plants and gifts can brighten the season and keep gardeners’ thumbs green. If you cannot be with loved ones this year, one plant that ships exceptionally well and provides cheerfulness after the presents are all unwrapped is amaryllis. An amaryllis also makes a thoughtful hostess gift at Thanksgiving.

Derived from the Greek amarysso, meaning “to sparkle,” amaryllis is the common name for plants in the Hippeastrum genus. There is also a genus Amaryllis, which confusingly is not the same plant. The large, fat bulbs of amaryllis are easy to find this time of year in grocery stores, garden centers, big box stores, and online retail offerings. Amaryllis is an almost foolproof plant to grow, and its fast-growing flowering stalk is an amusement on its own. Bulbs come loose, in a kit, or pre-potted, and take about 6 to 8 weeks to bloom. Don’t be disturbed by the time commitment, as amaryllis are very easily maintained and produce impressively grand blooms for minimal effort. Plant amaryllis in a container that is only slightly larger than the bulb with the top one-third to one-half of the bulb exposed above the soil. Water about once per week, taking care not to pour water directly on top of the center of the bulb. Place in a bright, sunny window and occasionally rotate the plant to keep the stalk from leaning into the light. For information on growing amaryllis and transitioning them to the garden, see the online factsheet HGIC 1551, “Amaryllis.”

Hundreds of amaryllis cultivars have been developed since the late 1700s when breeding within the genus began. The variety of colors and flower forms is broad enough to suit any preference. In recent years, plants in the genus Hippeastrum have been found to produce many different alkaloid chemicals that could have the potential for pharmaceutical use. Unfortunately, this also means that amaryllis can be toxic to pets, especially if they chew the bulb, which can cause ill effects. Regardless of its past development or future in medicine, growing amaryllis is a tradition that will continue during the holidays for years to come. Maybe we can get those pesky elves off their shelves to pitch in on watering?

Though our local extension office is currently closed, we are still here to serve you. Contact me at stepht@clemson.edu or 864-889-0541. Our Clemson Home and Garden Information Center is available online at hgic.clemson.edu. Visit our Facebook page at facebook.com/GreenwoodCoExtension, where we will be posting timely information.

Stephanie Turner is the Greenwood County horticulture agent for Clemson Cooperative Extension.