I have been pulling some of my Amaryllis bulbs out of the basement and get them potted to re-grow, bloom, and brighten my mother’s kitchen. These are amazing plants: start as a baseball-sized bulb; stick it in a 6 inch pot with a little soil; a shoot grows 10- 16 inches, topped with red, white, or pink blooms; plant it in the garden to recover all summer; cut off the leaves and stick it in the basement for the winter to “nap;” and start all over the next spring.
This amazing plant reminds me of my favorite artist-scientist, George Washington Carver. His painting by Betsy Graves Reyneau in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, depicts him as an older man working at one of his favorite hobbies, breeding Amaryllis. At the risk of sounding over dramatic, the arc of Carver’s career was like the Amaryllis – a humble looking origin, opening to a spectacular blossom.
Because there are many excellent books and articles about Carver, as well as two National Park Service sites in Missouri and Alabama memorializing his life and work, I am going to give only a brief sketch – one that may be at odds with the usual hagiographies. Read the rest of this entry »