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  • Writer's pictureStephen Birchard

Amaryllis: A Harbinger of Spring

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot, and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade."

- Charles Dickens

The days are getting longer. The sunlight invites itself in at a steeper angle, and the beams are warmer. Dogs seek comfort in them. The last piles of snow are helpless—being slowly absorbed back into the earth’s substrate.

Cardinals are the first to know. Their song becomes distinct, repetitive, and clear. It penetrates the cold stillness of early morning. Although their message is pragmatic, it is the song of Spring.

But it is early in the transformation. Wildflowers have not yet appeared, trees have no buds, and the grass is still brown. Even the ephemerals have not emerged from the cold forest floor. Early Spring is a season all its own. Nature is awakening from its hibernation but is still groggy.

Inpatient with nature’s methodical cycle, I yearn for a symbol of its resurrection. There are dormant amaryllis bulbs in the dank, dark corners of the basement. I bring them upstairs and implore them: “Wake up, unconscious bulbs. I offer clean water, sunlight, and warmth. Show me that first new leaf, tenuously peeking out from the atrophied remnants of last year’s foliage.”

Days go by. The exposed portion of the bulb doesn’t change. I look at it often, as if my gaze will spark the germination. But I know the schedule is not mine to dictate. Patience is an elusive virtue. Some call this process “forcing the bulb”; I see it more as “inviting the bulb.” By giving it light, moisture, and warmth, I am opening the door for it to declare its magnificence.

Finally, a leaf appears, then another.

A flower bud slowly breaches the confines of the bulb.

Then, almost before one’s eyes, a flower stalk reaches upward. It is robust, thick, and vertical—a botanical obelisk. How did all that green matter fit inside this Pandora's box of horticultural mystery?

Finally, it reaches its pinnacle, and the flower gently opens. It is revealed in all its glory. The petals are enormous.

Mythology holds that the amaryllis represents pride, strength, and determination. It’s easy to see why. Everything about it is grandiose. Mine are red, just one of the many available colors, including white, pink, salmon, apricot, and burgundy. Choose one that beckons to you.

Spend time drinking in their beauty, for their time is fleeting. The blooms will fade, but the leaves will remain and be nurtured through Spring, Summer, and Autumn. They need that time to prepare for next year’s brief but spectacular display. Three seasons of tender loving care for a few weeks of blooms, but it's worth it.

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