"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag

Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (3 of 3)

From “Summer-Flowering Bulbs” in A Garden of One’s Own by Elizabeth Lawrence:

“There are two ways of determining the best plant material for a given location. One is to study the native flora, and the other is to experiment with plants from similar climates. Gardeners on the Pacific Coast have already discovered that their hot suns and periods of drought supply the conditions necessary for maturing certain bulbs from tropical and subtropical countries, and we are beginning to learn that many of them can be grown with equal success in the Southeastern states.

“Some of the Eastern catalogues list a few tender bulbs, but most of them must be ordered from California growers. Among the plants contributed to American gardens by the warm countries are representatives of the three great bulb families: the Amaryllidaceae, the Liliaceae, and the Iridaceae….

“The Amaryllis family is a major source of bulbs for mild climates. Their grace and charm is suggested by the poetic and mythological names of some of the genera: Lycoris and Nerine for sea sprites; Amaryllis for the nymph celebrated by Theocritus and Virgil; Hyacinthus for the unfortunate shepherd, beloved of Apollo; and Zephyranthes, flower of the west wind….

“Amaryllis, the genus which gives its name to the family, has only one species, although many closely related forms are known as amaryllis.”

From “A Memory of Amaryllis” in The Story of Amaryllis and Other Verses (1908) by Viola Taylor:

Have you grown old, or is the soul still young,
Within that body that was once so fair?
And has true silver touched the powdered hair?
While you have proved too well the song once sung
That rang so sadly, like a passing knell —
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.

Have you grown old, and with uncertain touch
Do you now finger what you once forsook —
The dusty pages of a pious book?
You did not, dear, love praying overmuch
When you were young, but liked to smile and tell
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.

No! rather say you passed in your full bloom,
With your sprigged pannier’s first more sober hue,
The mellow lights of autumn warm on you,
As in your rose-heaped, closely curtained room
You sang to some last love a last farewell —
You will grow old, in the evening, by candlelight.


This is the last of three posts featuring photos of Amaryllis flowers that I took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens this year. The previous posts are Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (1 of 3) and Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (2 of 3). In the final two images below, you can see a full view of one of the plants I photographed from various close-up angles for these three posts.

As this is likely the last of the amaryllis flowers I’ll photograph this year (though I am picking out some daylily, lily, and amaryllis photos for my black-background treatment), I thought Viola Taylor’s poem “A Memory of Amaryllis” fit pretty well. It’s from her 1908 book The Story of Amaryllis and Other Verses, which I puzzled mightily about in a post last year (see Red and Pink Amaryllis (1 of 3)) — when trying to figure out if the amaryllis poems in the book were about amaryllis flowers, about the life of a person known to her as “Amaryllis”, or even about Greek mythology associated with the plant family name “amaryllis”. But this year, since I have access to three artificial intelligence chatbots — see Easter, Madonna, and Regal Lilies (2 of 3) for more on that — I decided to give ChatGPT, Google Bard, and ClaudeAI a twirl to see if they could help me out. Maybe I should call them my Three AI-migos — though it may be premature to consider them friends.

Anyways! I sent this question to each chatterbot…

There is a book of verses called “The Story of Amaryllis” by Viola Taylor. Are the references to “amaryllis” throughout this book about a person named “Amaryllis” or plants in the amaryllis family?

… which both ChatGPT and Google Bard interpreted as a request for information about a living person, and gave an answer that sounded like “Us AIs don’t know nothing about no people” — with Bard actually getting a little snippy about it. ClaudeAI, however, seems to have nailed it, providing this nice overview of Taylor’s verses:

Based on some quick research, the references to “Amaryllis” in the book “The Story of Amaryllis” by Viola Taylor are about the amaryllis flower, not a person named Amaryllis.

Some key points:

  • The amaryllis is a flowering bulb plant that belongs to the Amaryllidaceae family. Common species include the belladonna lily and naked lady lily.
  • The name “amaryllis” comes from Greek mythology, derived from the name of a shepherdess who shed her blood to win the love of the shepherd Alteo.
  • Viola Taylor’s book is a narrative poem that anthropomorphizes the amaryllis, telling the mythological story of Amaryllis through the perspective of the delicate flower.
  • Descriptions of the “crimson gown” and “flower fairy” in Taylor’s verses match the appearance of the amaryllis flower, with its bright red blooms and delicate, almost human-like form.

So in summary, while the name Amaryllis has mythological roots as a woman’s name, in the context of Viola Taylor’s botanical poetry, the references are likely about the actual amaryllis flower itself, not a person. The personification gives the bloom a voice to tell its Greek myth-inspired origins.

Anthropomorphism — which really needs to be a word I can actually pronounce, like, say, “anthropop” — is, of course, the tendency to ascribe human characteristics to non-human entities… and, perhaps, an AI chatbot’s attempt to mirror human conversation by responding with phrases like “Based on some quick research”.

Anthropop (see! it is a word!) is deeply embedded in human culture, reflected in all the arts, and continually used to help us understand the world and communicate about it. But personally I’ve often wondered if (non-human) beings are capable of something similar, though we may be anthroppoping if we think they are. Does a dog ever pretend to be a cat? Mine seems to — sometimes sneaking around the house, peaking around doorways, and jumping at me like a puss on the prowl — so I think it’s possible. And it’s a well-established fact (not a fact) that Thesaurus Rex — the first speaking dinosaur — emulated human vocals before humans spoke (or even existed!).

So ClaudeAI’s interpretation fits the verses in Taylor’s book very well, as Taylor charts the flower/person’s progress from birth to death, and even after-death, through nine related poems. The verse I quoted above is the seventh poem in the book, positioning the flowers as a memory just before they’ve returned to the earth, as they’re fading from their summertime vibrance — and possibly while thinking they were glad not to be daylilies, which were already dead….


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (2 of 3)

From “Amaryllis Family (Amaryllidaceae)” in Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel:

“If you have enjoyed a potted Amaryllis blooming in mid-winter, then you have met the Amaryllis family. Members of this family are typically perennial plants that resprout each year from underground bulbs. The leaves are usually somewhat juicy and tender, rather than fibrous.

“The flowers are often grouped in an umbel (like an umbrella), or sometimes solitary, and typically emerge from a spathe-like bract (a modified leaf wrapped around the flowerhead). Otherwise, individual flowers are typical lily-like blossoms with 3 sepals and 3 petals that are identical in size and color….

“As currently defined, the Amaryllis family encompasses an estimated 60 genera and 850 species, only a handful of which are found in North America. The potted flowers we know as ‘amaryllis’ were segregated from Amaryllis into a closely related new genus,
Hippeastrum, but the old name remains as the common name. Edibility varies significantly across the family. Onions (Allium) and their kin have sometimes been segregated into their own family, and may be yet again.”


This is the second of three posts featuring photos of Amaryllis flowers that I took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens twice upon a time, within the past few weeks. The previous post is Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (1 of 3).

I took the photographs of the white Amaryllis in June, and took the rest just this week. The ones I took this week — while they resemble those in my first post — show off more saturated red, pink, and magenta colors. It’s mildly intriguing to me that the lighter colored flowers of the same family often appear a few weeks before those with richer colors, and having seen this same growth pattern several years in a row, I guess it might mean something. They are also less translucent — more light is absorbed by the flower petals than passes through, giving them a thicker appearing texture — so I wonder if they’ve evolved to better handle the long, hot (very damn hot!) days of a southern July than the varieties that bloom in early to middle June.

Thanks for taking a look!

Amaryllis! Amaryllis! (1 of 3)

From “In a Quiet Light” in Amaryllis by Starr Ockenga:

“Looking through the lens of a camera at a flower is intoxicating, particularly close up as it morphs from reality into abstraction.

“Besides being seduced by the plant as a subject for my camera, I also became curious about its history. What does the name amaryllis mean? In what tropical paradise did its ancestors originate? What plant hunters’, botanists’, and breeders’ names are linked to it? Where and how is the bulb propagated today? How is its anatomy defined? What is the plant’s range of color and form? What is the best way to grow it, and under what conditions can it be rejuvenated year after year?”

From “Amaryllis” in The English Flower Garden by William Robinson:

“Amaryllis: Showy bulbous tropical plants, few of the species of which are hardy, though the beautiful Belladonna Lily (A. belladonna) may be grown well in the open air…. It is a noble bulbous plant from the Cape of Good Hope, from 1 feet to 3 feet high, blooming late in summer, the flowers, as large as the white Lily, and of delicate silvery rose in clusters on stout, leafless stems, arising from the large pear-shaped bulbs….

“If planted in autumn, or at any time during the winter, it will be well to protect them from severe weather by half-rotten leaves, coconut fibre, or fern. The plants begin to push forth their new leaves early in spring, and upon the freedom with which they send forth these during summer the bloom in the autumn depends.”


This is the first of three posts featuring photos of Amaryllis buds and blooms that I took at Oakland Cemetery’s gardens on two separate visits. The photos in this post are from mid-June, which seems like the optimal blooming time for these large pink and magenta variations, as well as a few white ones that I’ll include in the next post. The second and third posts will also include some I took just yesterday — on one of the few July days when it was not raining or so humid it felt like walking through rainclouds — when I found a batch of late-bloomers showing off deep red and purple flowers, instead of the lighter pink/magenta or white you see here.

Amaryllis is among the many plants often mischaracterized as lilies (see List of plants known as lily for lots of others) — and I mention this only because I too thought they were lilies until a couple of years ago. The appearance of the opened flowers is very lily-like; but mostly I mis-knew them because they’re often referred to as “swamp lilies” — a common name I recognized. And actually it’s crinum — a member of the Amaryllis family — to which “swamp lily” is frequently applied, though it’s quite a challenge to differentiate between amaryllis as an Amaryllis-family variety and crinum when you didn’t plant the plants yourself.

Thanks for taking a look!

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