No matter what happens, I’ve always known I was inheriting the amaryllis.

Someday my sisters may have to fight over Grandma’s quilts. My brothers might have to decide between Dad’s rusty shovels or his recliner. I’m getting the amaryllis.

Families have become estranged over less weighty matters than this. But in case any of my siblings have any doubt about my inheritance, it’s in the will. I know this fact because Momma has told me. “Don’t worry,” she has said at least a dozen times, “you’re getting the amaryllis. We put it in the will.”

Even my parents’ lawyer mentioned it recently. “So,” Liz said, “I understand you get the amaryllis.” I wondered if telling me this wasn’t breaking some client/lawyer privilege, but she probably thought, what the hell.  It’s a plant.

To my mother this is not just a plant. This is the creature she has directed all her care and attention upon since her children have grown up and scattered across the country. We are all a little vague about when the amaryllis first made its appearance in the family, but we think this plant has been in the family longer than Matt. He and I will celebrate our 24th wedding anniversary this summer.

Just to clarify, this is not the sort of amaryllis one might buy at your local nursery around the holidays. The kind that comes in a box, the bulbs ready for forcing in time for Valentine’s Day. The kind one might give their piano teacher (Yes. I’ve gotten one. Or two. Or ten.).

Comparing Momma’s amaryllis to this lesser version one might impulsively buy while standing in the line at True Value (Yep.  Done this too.) is like comparing our Godiva to a mountain lion roaming the Sandias. Or even better, comparing Godiva to her African lion cousins.  Not the same. Not even close. We are talking a MONSTER plant.

When my parents moved to Albuquerque several years ago, what Momma cared the most about was the amaryllis. She let Dad pack our great-grandmother’s china and crystal. She recklessly threw away all of the formal dresses my sisters and I had left in their basement in St Louis for safekeeping. My wedding dress went to a thrift shop. She lost no sleep over any of this, but she fretted and fussed over the amaryllis. For those of us on the receiving end of her worrying, it became a sort of drinking game. “Count the number of times Momma mentions the amaryllis next time you talk to her,” I texted my sisters. After only a few conversations, we lost count.

That year Momma’s amaryllis had some 65 blooms, lasting a span of 6 weeks. She claimed that thanks to the cross-country move during the precious “hibernation period” that year was a bad year. Whatever.

The amaryllis spent that summer in a shady corner of the side yard at my parents’ house. I almost forgot it even existed. And then in October Momma began talking about splitting the plant before moving it to the basement for the winter. “You will have to help me,” she said. I grunted my agreement.

The next time I saw Momma she was more specific. “You and David will have to help me split the amaryllis. It’s a big job.”

I was immediately puzzled by this. Why David? I mean I’m sure my brother would be helpful as we have always said he was freakishly strong, but why David in particular? Why not Matt? What about a friend? How about a neighbor? Where was my dad in all of this anyway?  Watching football? If this really was a job involving several people, did it really matter who was involved?

It did, apparently. The following week Momma brought it up again.  “We need to find a time for you and David to split the amaryllis.”

There it was: You and David. This task was obviously some “original children” thing, a primary family activity. On second thought, it is totally possible David and I were being punished for something we did in our childhood. We did a lot, and Momma doesn’t know the half of it.

Finally, after weeks of discussion, one Sunday afternoon David and I split the damn amaryllis, my inheritance. Momma picked a day when I had fewer lessons to teach and no evening choir rehearsal, thereby clearing up a lot of time. When we pulled the plant apart the bulbs were each the size of my head. The pieces went into three huge pots. It took all of five minutes, tops. (After all, David is freakishly strong.) Momma was so happy. Her children were doing a project together. That the project involved her current plant baby was sort of weird and Freudian if I thought it about it too much. I chose not to ponder this.

Initially, I wondered what would happen once the amaryllis was split into three pots. After all the plant was to be mine. MINE. Would this mean my sisters would get some of the amaryllis too? I love my sisters and want only the best for them, but this didn’t seem right.

I should have never worried.

Since the Splitting of the Amaryllis, my years are destined to be divided into two distinct seasons: Before Amaryllis and After Amaryllis. Every year sometime around the end of January, my mother arrives on my doorstep with one huge pot containing two bulbs, which have been wintering in her cellar. At that point, the thing is rather unremarkable to describe: a pot of dirt with some dead-looking plant material poking out from the surface of the soil. I set it next to my desk, where students and I can keep an eye on it. Within days, or certainly weeks, the plant begins its journey to life, eventually growing taller than my youngest students.  Each brilliant red bloom is the size of my head. In a tiny house with what I affectionately call “a real estate problem,” it takes up half the room. It is like having a visitor for four months. One that demands a lot of attention.

Last week, Momma came to retrieve the amaryllis, our lives and house settling back into their Before Amaryllis state.  The plant will summer in my mother’s courtyard, and then spend the winter in the cellar.  Come January the cycle will begin all over again.  Like anything worthwhile, it’s wonderful, and disrupting, both at the same time.

But I’ve changed my mind: I will happily share some of my inheritance with my sisters.

High Culture

The geranium and the begonia

bloom with such offhand redundance

we scarcely notice.  But the 

amaryllis is a study in


disruption:  everything routine 

gives way to the unsheathing

of its climbing telescope–

a supernova of twin crimson


tunnels, porches of infinity

where last week there was nothing.

Months of clandestine preparation

now implode in pollen


that will never brush a bee,

fueling the double-barreled velvet

stairwell of its sterile pistils

with a tapered incandescence


that’s already short of breath

and going blind before a 

week is out.  Such show 

of breeding, such an excess


of cultivation, all but asks us 

to stop breathing too until 

it’s over.  I remember

how, the night the somewhat


famous violinist came to supper,

the whisper of the gown she 

put on just before the concert

filled the parlor of the farmhouse


with things it had no room for–

the slave marts of the East,

the modes of Paris, the gazing 

ramparts of the stratosphere.


    -Amy Clampitt