Alstroemeria: a Florist’s Dream

Alstroemeria growing in a pot in the garden © Karen Netto (Andrews)

Alstroemeria is a florist’s dream flower. It offers a huge variety of bright, and often contrasting, colours for single or mixed bouquets. Above all, it lasts. It can survive as a cut flower for up to two weeks. Alstroemeria also make good, free-flowering garden plants. They can be grown in pots if garden space is limited. They symbolise friendship, devotion and carry other positive floral meanings. It is hardly surprising that Alstroemeria is a popular choice in the cut flower market and beyond.

A Lily that isn’t

Alstroemeria resembles a miniature Lily. It is commonly known as the Peruvian Lily or Lily of the Incas. While it belongs in the Liliales order, it is not classified as a member of the Liliaceae or Lily family. The Alstroemeria genus is a member of the Alstroemeriaceae. The family has four genera and 253 species according to Kew’s Plants of the World (2017):

  • Alstroemeria (125 species)
  • Bomarea (122 species)
  • Drymophila (2 species)
  • Luzuriaga (4 species)

The latter two genera are regarded as somewhat dubious placements in Alstroemeriaceae.

Origin and Genus Name

The plant originates from a wide range of countries in South America. It was reputedly discovered high in the mountains by the Swedish naturalist, Baron Clas Alströmer (1736-1794). An alternative source suggests that Alströmer saw the plant at the home of the Swedish consul in Cadiz, Spain. He obtained some seeds and sent them to Linnaeus. Whatever the truth of the origin, Linnaeus named the Peruvian Lily Alstroemeria as a thank you to his student and friend. An ‘o’ with an umlaut written ö is transcribed into other languages as ‘oe’, thus the genus became Alstroemeria from Alströmer.

Alstroemeria grows in a wide range of habitats. These include cloud forests, swamps, marshlands, desert areas as well in the Andes mountains. This versatility has seen the flowers naturalised in other countries as an ornamental and cut flower.

Botanical Dissection

When a botanist receives a bouquet of flowers, it is hard to resist the temptation to dissect a flower or two. As you can see, I did not resist the temptation with the red Alstroemeria below.

Dissected Alstroemeria showing 6 free, petal-like (petaloid) tepals. The inner 3 are shorter with tiger-like markings. The outer 3 have a long groove with a nectar-bearing duct. There are 6 long stamens that curve upwards at the end, a terminal style, stigma and an inferior ovary.
© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Fascinating Leaves

Floristry websites seem to refer to Alstroemeria leaves as ‘upside down’. They have a marked twist where they join the stem. Botanists describe these leaves as resupinate. As the leaves grow they twist near the base. They are distributed along and around the stem in a rosette pattern. There is a higher concentration of leaves near the top of the plant.

Alstroemeria leaf with a marked twist (resupinate) © Karen Netto (Andrews)
Leaves twist as they grow and are distributed around the stem
© Karen Netto (Andrews)

Leaf Research

Alstroemeria leaves have attracted particular attention from researchers. Although the flowers are known to last well, the leaves do not age well once cut. They turn yellow easily. As a result, scientists have investigated the possible causes of this premature leaf ageing or senescence. Florists get around this issue by removing the leaves from bouquets.

Economic Risk of Plant Viruses

Alstroemeria is an important ornamental plant crop that is imported to Britain from South America and other countries. It is also grown and bred in the UK despite its South American origin. Quite apart from the usual gardeners’ banes of slugs and snails, Alstroemeria is unfortunately susceptible to 12 different viruses. The most worrying is the Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV), Orthotospovirus. It is transmitted by thrips. The virus can infect a wide range of other food crops and ornamentals with potentially devastating, economic impact.

RHS Chelsea Online

The RHS Chelsea Flower was scheduled to take place this week. Due to the Coronavirus, it has gone virtual instead. All the necessary contact details are available to support the horticultural industry at a difficult time. The British seem to have become even more interested in gardening and Nature during the Coronavirus shutdown. Alstroemeria is certainly a flower worthy of investigation for its bright, showy colours.

© Karen Netto (Andrews)

References and Further Reading

Alpine Garden Society (2020): Genus: Alstroemeria. Alpine Garden Society Plant Encyclopaedia. Alpine Garden Society. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

Assis, Marta Camargo de (2009). Neotropical Alstroemeriaceae. In: Milliken, W., Klitgård, B. & Baracat, A. (2009 onwards), Neotropikey – Interactive key and information resources for flowering plants of the Neotropics. Last accessed 19 May 2020.

British Flowers Week Team (2016): Flower Profile. Day 5 – About British Alstroemeria. 17 June 2016. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

Chalmers, Alexander (1812): The General biographical dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation. Vol. II. 1 January 1812. Printed for J. Nicols. Ebook last accessed 17 May 2020.

Christenhusz, Maarten J. M. & Fay, Michael F. & Chase, Mark W. (2017): Plants of the World. An Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Vascular Plants. Kew. Chicago.

Ferrante, Antonio et al. (2002): Thidiazuron—a potent inhibitor of leaf senescence in Alstroemeria. Postharvest Biology and Technology 25 (2002) 333–338. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

Funny How Flowers Do That (2020): How the Alstroemeria Got Its Name. Every flower has its own scientific name. Thejoyof Flower Council of Holland initiative. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

Hassani-Mehraban, A., et al. (2010). A distinct tospovirus causing necrotic streak on Alstroemeria sp. in Colombia. Archives of virology155(3), 423–428.

Interflora (?): Alstroemeria. Facts, Types, Meaning and Care Tips. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

RHS (2020): How to grow Alstroemerias & Introducing Alstroemeria. RHS Gardening. Last accessed 17 May 2020.

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