Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Living Dead Amaryllis… on Sale Now!

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Amaryllis bulb dipped in wax.

There seems to be no limit to the atrocities to which merchants will subject plants in order to make a sale. After offering cactus with glued-on dried flowers, poinsettias sprayed with fluorescent dye and glitter, spray-painted succulents, orchids injected with blue dye, etc. (see Horticultural Rip-offs of the Holiday Season for a few others), there’s now a new gimmick: a dying amaryllis bulb dipped in colored wax. Here’s the situation:

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An amaryllis bulb will bloom without being planted.

When an amaryllis bulb is ready to bloom, it will flower, even if you don’t plant the bulb. You can leave it on a shelf or table, without any care, and out comes the flower stalk. This isn’t particularly good for the plant. Ideally, it should have been potted up before it bloomed so it could develop a solid root system, but it is still feasible to plant it after it blooms and the plant should recover.

That an amaryllis bulb can bloom without being planted is a surprising fact, one few gardeners seem to know about, but obviously a few merchants are aware of the phenomenon and have decided there is money to be made from it.

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A bulb multilated, dipped in wax and and sprayed to look like a Christmas ornament.

What you will be seeing in your local garden center – if indeed they are not already present – are amaryllis bulbs dipped in wax of a holiday color: red, green, white, gold, silver, etc. Sometimes artificial snow or sparkles have been added, making the bulbs look rather like Christmas ornaments.

Before dipping the bulb in wax, it is stripped of its papery outer tunic and its roots and its basal plate are cut off. So that the bulb can be set on a flat surface without falling over, a stand is added. The ones I have seen are metal and are physically inserted into the base of the bulb.

At this point, the bulb is still alive, but dying. Without roots or a basal plate (actually the plant’s compressed stem), suffocated by a layer of wax, the bulb can’t possibly survive… but before it does die, it makes one final effort at life by producing flowers. The bulb is at this point essentially one of the living dead.

Note that the merchant proudly sells the waxed bulb a label saying “No need to water!”. Of course not! Since when do the living dead need water? And even if you wanted to water one, how would you do it when the dying bulb no longer has roots to absorb water with?

Before the bulb dies, it will produce an upright flower stem and four to six big flowers. No need for any complicated explications about getting these amaryllis to rebloom. They simply won’t. Just toss them after they finish blooming.

I find it particularly sadistic that suppliers dare to promote living dead amaryllis at Christmas, a holiday which is a celebration of life! Maybe they should instead offer their living dead amaryllis for Halloween?

An Afterthought

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Living dead amaryllis bulb: Halloween version!

Oops! Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this article, I discovered suppliers do offer living dead amaryllis bulbs for Halloween, although I didn’t see any in my local garden center. Dipped in orange wax with a jack-o’-lantern decal, believe it or not. Macabre, n’est-ce pas?

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

8 comments on “Living Dead Amaryllis… on Sale Now!

  1. Just awful! A grouping of live Amaryllis can look so regal.
    Why would anyone hurt a bulb in such a manner?

  2. Well, I’m a student living in a crummy room for the term. Not all of us are fortunate to have a permanent home with space to garden, repot, etc. This bulb is my little patch of heaven until I move again next month. “Permanent” plants would have to go out in the freezing dumpster anyway

    • Fine… but you’re paying extra for the pleasure of buying a dying plant. A healthy bulb will cost you much less and you can still toss it after it blooms.

  3. Sarah Pitson

    my boyfriends mother brought this plant as a gift after i visited them in the Netherlands, i wanted to find out what type of care this plant would need because i thought it was weird that it didn’t need water and was encased in wax and whenever i pressed the wax the insides felt squishy,i have no clue about plants but when she brought this for me i thought i would keep it alive for as long as possible but now i just feel sad whenever i look at it.

  4. So can you rescue a waxed bulb amaryllis by removing the wax and potting it?

  5. I have managed to save mine! the bulb was very withered under the wax (have pictures)

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