The Naked Lady (Amaryllis belladonna L.) is one of just two species of bulbs within the genus Amaryllis. These beautiful plants hail from the Western Cape of South Africa and are thought to have spread by way of European slave traders and colonialist nations. A. belladonna is also known as 'Belladonna Lilies' or 'Jersey Lily' in the UK, 'The March Lily' in South Africa, 'Bordão de São Jose (St. Joseph's Staff) in Portugal, St. Rosalina in Sicily, St. Rosa or The Madonna Lily in Italy, and sometimes in Spain as 'Meninas Para Escola'. In the Azores, Portugal people called them Little Girls Going to School, because the pink blossoms opened there at about the time school began in the fall. Here, in the US, we seem to prefer the Naked Lady. The taxonomic name comes from a beautiful Greek shepherdess, while the plant's display of a tall flower stalk without leaves accounts for the common name "naked lady". Though unrelated to the psychotropic Atropa belladonna, all parts of this plant are poisonous if ingested.
Amaryllis belladonna is a striking plant with leathery, strap-like leaves emerging from a softball-size bulb poking halfway out of the ground. The long leaves appear around late spring in the Davis area before dying back down to the bulb; around mid-summer, the bulb produces clusters of fragrant four-inch long trumpet shaped flowers ranging from pinkish-white to rose-red. Each cluster of up to twelve blossoms is supported on an 18-inch stalk. The leaves then reappear, remaining green throughout the winter and the cycle continues the following spring — this phenomenon of flowering before the appearance of leaves is known as hysteranthy. The Naked Lady requires full sun to partial or bright shade with a well-drained soil. After foliage appears in early spring, it's important to allow the plant to die back naturally without pruning... the bulb builds energy from the interaction of sun on the leaves. Once the plant is in flower, stalks should be removed as soon as flowers begin to look tired, because flowers that go to seed prevent the bulb from blooming the following year.
Though Naked Ladies can be propagated from seed, they may require more than three years to mature and flower. It's far easier to propagate A. belladonna by division of bulbs after flowering; the bulbs and offsets can be planted immediately with their necks at soil level.
For a listing of other plants found growing in Davis, visit our Town Flora.