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:
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.
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?
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?