I just received a very nice e-mail from a customer who had received his shipment of bulbs. "Great roots!" he said.
Here, at Telos, I ship all members of the Family Amaryllidaceae with their roots on. This means that each bulb is freshly unpotted for each order, the roots washed, then packed in damp packing material (usually damp paper towels), wrapped in plastic and shipped. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is! A large order can sometimes take me all afternoon to unpot, clean, then wrap. Only a small enterprise like Telos Rare Bulbs can possibly go to the trouble to do this, since large commercial growers harvest large quantities of bulbs all at once, then clean them and trim off all the roots so that the bulbs can be kept in dry storage before being distributed to bulb brokers.
So, if it so much work, why bother? The big guys don't do it. When a bulb emerges from dormancy, it draws on the food stored to produce leaves and flowers. A huge amount of energy is needed to do this, and it can cause the bulb to shrink visibly as the food reserves are drawn down. Most members of the Family Amaryllidaceae keep permanent roots which are often very extensive. You can see this from the picture to the left of Hymenocallis littoralis which I cleaned for an order today. The roots are about twelve inches long. Had I trimmed off the roots, the growing bulb would have to draw even more energy from its stores to replace this large root system. Poor bulbs! You can imagine the struggle they would go through to replace the roots, then put up new leaves and possibly a flower stem. This would stress the bulb so much that a) it could die, or b) it might take a year or two (or more) to catch up to where it was.
Those huge Amaryllis (actually, Hippeastrum) bulbs that come from the Netherlands have been expertly grown and sometimes artificially treated to make sure you get a large luscious flower the very first season, but after that the bulbs really struggle and may take two years or more to reach flowering size again. And some won't make it at all.
I love my bulbs. I have nurtured most of them from seed sowing, and I want them to be successful in the homes they go to. So although most commercial growers would say that what I do here at Telos is not 'cost effective', I do it anyway so that the bulbs won't suffer any serious setback in their new homes. If they are planted and cared for as soon as they arrive, they will hardly know anything has happened to them.