Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Paperwhites -Beautiful White Flowers That Smell Bad

Paperwhites are beautiful white flowers often grown indoors during the winter months. Grown before Christmas, they make an excellent holiday decoration. Grown to bloom after the holidays, paperwhites brighten up the winter doldrums with their promise of spring.

Members of the narcissus family of bulbs, paperwhites can be grown outdoors in warmer climates. But they make the biggest splash inside. Tall 12" - 18" stems produce tiny white bloom clusters (as pictured on right), that exude a distinctive aroma. So who put the stink in distinctive aroma?

Some sources claim  that the scent comes from a chemical called indole, a musky smell that up to 1/4 of the population find, frankly, putrid. So doesn't that make me feel special!

Now, some folks are offended by the smell of Oriental lilies. But I think that they mistake too much for too stinky. One or two Oriental lilies smell heavenly. More than that can be overwhelming so that the heady perfume becomes offensive. 

Paperwhites aren't like that at all. They just plain smell bad.

Will I attempt to grow them again? Sure! They are so beautiful that I am willing to forgive the stench.

Paperwhites are easy to grow. For most attractive results, plant an uneven number of bulbs, 5 or more.
  •  Just place the bulbs in rocks, pebbles, or a loose growing medium like shredded coconut fiber. Plant bulbs very shallow, allowing 2/3 or 3/4 of the bulb to protrude above the growing medium.
  • Add water, filling the container so that the water just touches the bottom of the bulbs. Maintain water level.
  • Alcohol - some growers add 5% alcohol to the water. The alcohol (gin, vodka, whiskey) prevent the stems from becoming too leggy.
  • Place potted bulbs in a cool dark place for 2 weeks or until sprouts grow 4" - 6" tall. (45 - 55 degrees F works well)
  • Move container into a bright location at about 60 - 65 degrees F (a good reason to keep the thermostat turned down).
  • Turn the container every day or so to help the plants grow straight (they will lean toward the light)
If you want to go all out and have a dramatic show, plant all the bulbs at once. Or you can stagger planting a few bulbs at a time for a longer lasting show. 

Paperwhites grown in this way are referred to as "forced." Forced blooms, in general, produce an attractive display, but create a weakened plant. Many people throw out the bulbs after the blooms have faded. 

Paperwhites stay in bloom for quite a long time. Remember to keep well watered. 

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