22 October 2022

Hippeastrum (Double White Nymph Amaryllis, or Double Sonata Alfresco)

Reinett Olivier (#57 in the village where we live) called to invite me to look at a beautiful flower that she has growing on her front porch as it had 8 flower buds that she said was unusual, and so I went to investigate. I thought that it looks a bit like an amaryllis, but not Amaryllis belladonna, the March Lily as we call it, that flower in Feb-Mar-Apr around Cape Town and originates in Western Cape, particularly the rocky southwest area between the Olifants River Valley and Knysna.

The double white nymph amaryllis

Amaryllis belladonna from Wikipedia

 My first port-of-call is usually iNaturalist, but after a few days of posting an observation of a cultivated member of the family Amaryllidaceae, there were no identifications. Philke Cakebread (#98)  suggested that it is Hesperantha, but that did not look quite right (Onions are in the same family as Amaranthus and Hesperantha is in the same family as Iris). Philke knew that the correct name started with 'H' - I did not know that, but at least she did! Teams can generally do far better than individuals. 

So I did further sleuthing. 

Reinett mentioned that she had bought it at a local shop and that there are more available there, so I went to see if there were any so that I could ‘put a name to the face’. None there, but I asked at the neighbouring flower shop, and the helpful lady there said my photo shows a white amaryllis. Google was my next port of call and after several searches and modified searches and clicking on multiple links (some of which are shown below) I have come to the rough conclusion that it is Hippeastrum, a member of the amaryllid family, and more specifically White Nymph Amaryllis or Double Sonata Alfresco. I have not been able to ascertain a species name, but it may be a hybrid between species. Common names are so confusing – in a book that I wrote about Common Names of Karoo Plants I mentioned one plant (Sutherlandia frutescens, now a synonym of Lessertia frutescens, best known as Cancer bush) that has about 25 common names and one common name biesie has about six scientific names listed for it!

This exploration about Reinett’s amaryllis highlights why I usually leave the naming of plants to the experts while I am content to use a simple descriptive name that I will easily remember while I am working with the species in the field, and then give a specimen of the plant to a taxonomist and then I use the official name given by the expert when I produce a publication or a report. I delight in plants, their magnificent beauty, and the joy that they give, but with more than 800 plant species on the Cape Peninsula, some 2 200 species in the Cape Town area and about 24 000 in South Africa, I have not tried to remember that many names. Then there are hundreds or thousands of birds, reptiles, mammals, fungi, en so voorts! The sad thing is that I have forgotten so many names that I did know! And there is also the challenge that taxonomists change so many names and the name that I knew is a now a synonym! I love the magnificent vegetation, species, and diversity of our natural heritage in our wonderful South Africa. But I do not pretend to be a John Acocks who spent some 40 years making hundreds of thousands of observations in about 4 000 sites scattered all around South Africa and collected some 28 000 specimens, apparently being familiar with about 18 000 species names! I take my hat off to him! I am blessed to work with people like him and others in the team that fill in for my inadequacies as I try to contribute something that is, hopefully, of some value to those around me – good folk like Acocks and those reading this newsletter.