UPDATE 10/23/2009: I’ll be repeating the experiment with a slightly more diluted alcohol to see how much bigger I can grow the bulbs before they fall over! Watch for updates in November and December of 2009 in a follow up post: Amaryllis on Alcohol: Revisited …
This frame grab pretty much sums up the experiment’s results: The alcohol fed bulb on the left is shorter and has smaller blooms compared with the water fed bulb on the right. Blooms from each bulb lasted equally long.
Watch the time lapse movie* comparing the growth of an alcohol fed bulb (left) with a water fed bulb (right)…
The movie starts on the 16th day, ending on the 56th, covering 40 days of growth.
The hypothesis is that green growth on the alcohol fed bulb will be set back and shortened but that the flowers will not be dwarfed in volume or dimension and that they would last equally long.
Why would shorter stems be desirable? Amaryllis bulbs grown indoors, especially in water, often grow tall and lanky and fall over — as can be seen happening to the rightmost, water fed bulb, in the movie above.
The results of this experiment shows that alcohol does indeed shorten stem growth and although blooms are proportionately smaller they last as long as water fed bulbs.
After a week on water, the amaryllis bulb on the left was drained and was then given a 7:1 ratio by volume of water to 80˚ proof Vodka (40% alcohol). The amaryllis bulb on the right was given water only. A bottle appears behind the left bulb on the day it started it’s alcohol regimen. Both pots were rotated clockwise by 90 degrees each week.
Both bulbs are Red Lion amaryllis, bought from the same source, on the same day, from the same batch. In spite of this the bulb on the left grew faster from the get go, so it was chosen as the subject to be fed alcohol after its first week on water.
The background to the amaryllis experiment is one based on a similar experiment done with alcohol and Paperwhite Narcissus done by William Miller at Cornell University based on an enquiry in 2005 from Leslie Land, The New York Times garden editor — who was tipped off to the benefits of a tipple of gin by a reader. I’m trying to establish whether alcohol similarly benefits amaryllis growth.
*For those interested, this is also turning out out be an interesting look at how the automated blinds and the static ceramic pipes shield the interior of The New York Times building from sunlight and how the lighting is managed overnight.