Amaryllis belladonna is South African wildflower in the lily family (Liliacea spp.), grown as an annual in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 10. Aside from having the distinction of producing flowers on leaf-less stems, it is the only species in its genus. The plant’s species name of “belladonna,” which means “beautiful lady,” certainly speaks to its alluring appearance but says little about its potential toxicity.
One Plant, Many Names
Amaryllis belladonna is known by several other common names. One of the most popular is “naked ladies,” a reference to the delicate pink flowers that emerge from the stems in summer before leaves appear. It is also known as Jersey lily for two reasons. First, the flower has an affinity for the Isle of Jersey in the English Channel Islands, a region known for its fertile soil and a reputation for receiving more hours of sunlight daily than any other location in the United Kingdom. Secondly, the nickname became associated with a painting in which a famous English actress, Lily Langtry, who is from Jersey Island, is depicted holding an Amaryllis belladonna flower. In fact, the artist named the painting “A Jersey Lily.”
Amaryllis belladonna is the only “true” Amaryllis and should not be confused with Hippeastrum species sold in stores during the winter holidays that are erroneously labeled as Amaryllis.
Toxicity of Amaryllis Belladonna
The toxic effects of ingesting the bulb or sap of Amaryllis belladonna in humans is due to the presence of several alkaloids, including lycorine, pancracine and amaryllidine. In humans, the adverse effects are relatively minor and limited to vomiting and diarrhea. It would be prudent, however, to call Poison Control or your physician without delay, especially if a child is involved.
Some people may experience contact dermatitis from handling Amaryllis belladonna. If you suspect you may be one of them, wear gloves when planting or digging up the bulbs.
The toxicity of Amaryllis belladonna is more pronounced in pets than it is in people, especially in cats. Symptoms of poisoning include:
- Abdominal distress
Note that the ingestion of large amounts of Amaryllis belladonna may be fatal due to suppression of the central nervous system and respiratory failure. If you believe your pet may have eaten the plant in any amount, call your veterinarian.
Amaryllis belladonna is known to be toxic to goats and is presumed to be toxic to all grazing animals, including livestock. The symptoms of poisoning in these animals are similar to those seen in domestic pets, with the addition of heart or renal failure. Deer, however, appear to avoid the plant.
A Late Bloomer
With an average height of 2 to 3 feet and aromatic lily-like flowers of bright pink that can bloom continuously for up to eight weeks, Amaryllis belladonna makes an impressive display in the garden. One of the best features of this plant, however, is its appearance in mid-to-late summer when most other flowering plants have finished blooming.
Amaryllis belladonna is also easy to grow. A long, hot growing season is the perfect setting for this plant, and it will thrive in any kind of soil as long as the site is well-drained. A full day of sun is preferred, but the plant will tolerate partial shade. Although it is only cold hardy to zones 8 through 10, the bulbs can be dug up and brought indoors to overwinter and be replanted in spring.
To maximize impact, scale and textural interest, plant Amaryllis belladonna with other tall flowering perennials or evergreen ground covers.