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Sixteen years ago, Charles was sorting bulbs on the farm his grandfather started in 1945. Now he oversees amaryllis production for one of the world's largest amaryllis growers, based in South Africa.
"I grew up with the business, and I'm involved in pretty much everything we do. I still get my hands dirty all the time, as I need to lift bulbs and check them up close," he notes.
Seventy years ago his grandfather moved the company from the Netherlands to South Africa. Because the seasons are opposite in the Southern Hemisphere, amaryllis bloom naturally at the end of October, which is early summer in South Africa. That means growers there can hold the bulbs in cold storage for a few extra months, and then ship them north so they're primed to bloom in plenty of time for holiday decorating. Amaryllis shipped from the Netherlands, on the other hand, tend to bloom later, in January or February.
With one of the largest and most diverse breeding programs in the world, Charles's company grows and sells only varieties they've developed themselves. "My brother and I select and evaluate new hybrids, one of our favorite processes. We evaluate new varieties on 30 criteria, and a successful variety must excel in all 30 of these. Christmas Star is one of our specialty potted amaryllis."
The amaryllis are bred specifically for growing in pots. They're prized for their compact size and sturdy stems, both of which help prevent toppling, as well as their unusually high number of stems and blooms. Breeding amaryllis takes patience. "From the time we cross-pollinate two parent plants, it will take 15 to 20 years to bring selected varieties to market," says Charles. Once a variety is chosen, "each young bulb needs three summers to bring it to maturity."
What does he enjoy most about growing amaryllis? "Probably the joy they bring to people in their homes."
Last updated: 10/25/19
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