Dutch marketers have grown and offered for wholesale and mail order flowering bulbs for centuries throughout the world and for many years in the United States. Because the climate of the Netherlands was similar to the Northern United States, many of their catalog bulb favorite flower bulbs grew and thrived year after year. In many humid, arid, or warm areas of the United States, these flower bulbs can perform and grow as an annual plant, but generally will not reappear the year following flowering.
Amaryllis bulbs have been hybridized by inter crossing different native species from several continents. The amaryllis group of flower bulbs is among the great advancements of hybrid bulb improvement in color, size, flower form, flower number, flower bloom stalks, and repeated blooming cycles. The knowledge that cold treatment, heat, and forcing amaryllis bulbs to flower at the desired time has produced a flower bulb with an exact behavior that blooms at a predictable season. Christmas amaryllis flowers, anniversary gifts and presents, and various holiday occasions are greatly enjoyed by the predictable flowering patterns of amaryllis. Before World War II, amaryllis were hybridized in Florida using various species from South and Central America. The resulting amaryllis hybrids were moderately cold hardy and could be planted outside in zones 7-11, where the bulbs readily multiplied into clumps of spectacular flowering beauty that would rebloom reliably every year.
The Dutch hybridizers developed a long line of clear colors in amaryllis, some solid colored amaryllis and others with various colors of alternating stripe patterns. The Dutch amaryllis bulb market was directed toward the florist trade and growing amaryllis by forcing early flowers to bloom for the holiday season. The Dutch colorful amaryllis of red, pink, white, purple, and orange flowers won the marketing war between the Florida amaryllis growers and the Dutch growers. The Florida outdoor hybrid amaryllis market in the 1950's collapsed and the Dutch became the winners. Many huge clumps of Florida (South American hybrids) can be found blooming throughout the South in yards during late spring, however, there is no company offering these bulbs for sale anymore, only backyard growing flowers remain.
Amaryllis flower bulbs are usually marketed retail with a designation of bulb size diameter given in the metric system, but cm (centimeters) is a term not understood by most American gardeners. Huge amaryllis bulbs (mother bulbs) are 40cm in size or about the size of a grapefruit. The mother bulb amaryllis can produce as many as 4 flower stems, some stem clusters containing six flowers. The mother bulb amaryllis are rare and expensive but well worth the extra money for a flower lover. Guaranteed African amaryllis flowering can occur on flower bulbs as small as 22cm, and some of the miniature (dwarf) amaryllis new hybrids from Africa will bloom on 12cm bulbs, producing tiny stems and small flowers. The African bulbs of amaryllis will rebloom more and will produce more flower stems than Dutch amaryllis. Florists find that African flowering amaryllis are easier to flower for the Christmas season than Dutch amaryllis. African amaryllis often produce 2 flower stems at once, but Dutch bulbs don't. African amaryllis bloom in many unusual pastel colors of pink, lavender, red, white, and striped.
The Dutch hybridizers have introduced a new amaryllis flower color: yellow, and many pastel colors with a doubling of the petal count on an amaryllis flower called a “double amaryllis.” These double amaryllis flowers normally grow 12 petals instead of the normal 6. Improvements of petal count to an increase of 18 petals is called a “triple flowered” amaryllis.
Other notable improvements that were made on the amaryllis flower by the Dutch were: larger amaryllis flowers, more blooms per stem, more stems produced by an amaryllis bulb and repeated blooming. Clones of amaryllis bulbs were hybridized that could be chilled to predictably flower during the holiday season of Christmas by planting the amaryllis in a measured and controlled light, heat, and moisture condition at a precise date (most cultivars bloom 3 weeks after planting). After flowering, most Dutch amaryllis bulbs can be planted outside in the yard in zones 8-10, but the bulbs may freeze in the ground if planted in cold zones.
The Dutch hybridizers have also established hybrid amaryllis colonies in Africa, where different varieties (clones) have been developed to satisfy the needs of the American florist trade. These floral amaryllis bulbs are called African amaryllis, named after African, the continent where they are grown in huge fields for the commercial florist market in Europe and America. The wholesale market of the African amaryllis is tightly controlled by Dutch bulb distributors, who have dominated bulb wholesale and retail sales throughout the United States and the world. The flower clusters of the African amaryllis are short and more compact. The leaves of the African amaryllis begin to appear simultaneously with the flowers, whereas the Dutch amaryllis period of flowering is often finished before the leaves appear. Florists prefer leaf foliage and flowering to occur at the same time. Many Dutch flower stems grow extra tall and that makes the weight of the flowers top-heavy. Occasionally this problem causes the amaryllis pot to turn over.
Miniature amaryllis have been developed for the florist appeal for a colorful, fragile bloomer. Yellow or gold colored amaryllis have been bred for florists with a flair for the dramatic, however, red amaryllis are by far the most popular color.
Some hybridizers, especially the African hybridizers, have developed fragrant amaryllis with a very pleasant scent. It appears likely that the quality of fragrance will be incorporated in future plans for improving amaryllis flowers further.