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plant of the week: hippeastrum.

THE hippeastrum is one of the most popular bulbs for the home,easy to grow and bearing huge, trumpet- shaped blooms for long periods to brighten the winter windowsill.

Better (but wrongly) known as Dutch amaryllis, these flowers from Central and South America come as specially prepared bulbs on sale during autumn and winter. The blooms they produce are in hues of white,pink and red. There are also bi-coloured sorts and double-flowered hybrids.

Look out for the sumptuous Picotee,a superb variety with white satiny petals edged in vivid red; flamboyant scarlet-flowered Vera,or older favourites such as Apple Blossom (pictured),a stunner bearing white flowers etched with pink,green at the throat,and Red Lion,in rich crimson.

Small can also be beautiful, and for a more restrained display try Green Goddess which sends up relatively short stems topped with medium- sized pure white blooms stained green at the throat. Baby Star and Naughty Lady are similar varieties,both bearing small red flowers with attractive white-green markings towards the centre of the petals.

The variety Christmas Gift, with pure white blooms, has been bred for flowering in good time for the festive season.

Breeders are still striving to obtain a pure, strong yellow,but currently the nearest seems to be creamy-yellow Germa,a medium-sized variety with rather narrow blooms.

Doubles are widely available, too. Of these try bright scarlet Red Peacock,or pink and white bicolours, such as Nymph and Philadiphia.

When buying a hippeastrum bulb, check that it is firm and undamaged,and that the basal plate bearing the thong-like roots is intact. As the season progresses,bulbs that have remained unsold may react to the warm shop conditions and begin to show signs of growth -where the tip of a bud is only just showing. They may be all right but reject bulbs that have developed a flower stalk.

When planting,choose a pot that allows about 2.5cm(1in)of compost all around the bulb.

Hippeastrums grow in most well-drained proprietary com- posts. Keep the pots in a minimum temperature of 13 C (55F), in good,indirect light during the flowering period -clusters of up to four funnel-shaped blooms per stem are common,and strong bulbs of modern hybrids may produce up to three stems.

Apply a general liquid fertiliser every week from the time the flowers fade until growth begins to slow or add a sprinkling of slow release fertiliser granules to the compost at planting time.

Good light is necessary if the bulbs are to build up sufficient reserves for flowering in the following year. This can easily be achieved by setting the pots outside on the patio once all risk of frost has passed,or moving them into a greenhouse or bright room.

As growth begins to slow, the older leaves will begin to yellow, and this can be used as a guide as to when watering frequency needs reducing.

The plant's name apparently comes from hippos , theGreek for horse,owing to the fancied similarity to a horse's head when two leaves point upwards like horse's ears at a nearly stage of growth.

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A sumptuous hippeastrum is the pink- and white flowered variety Apple Blossom
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Jan 10, 2004
Words:535
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