The present study assessed the desiccation sensitivity of the excised embryonic axes of the following Amaryllidaceae species: Scadoxus puniceus, Amaryllis belladonna, Nerine huttoniae, N. humulus, N. bowdenii, N. filifolia, Haemanthus humulus humulus, H. coccineus, H. deformis, H. bakerae, Brunsvigia gregaria, Brunsvigia orientalis, Boophane disticha, Strumaria discifera, Crinum macowanii and C. bulbispermum. Excised embryonic axes were rapidly dehydrated (flash-dried). Curves of water content (g g− 1) and viability (%) versus drying time (min) were used to interpolate the water content (WC) and drying time (DT) values corresponding to 80% viability (WC/DT, V = 80) for individual species, and used to compare desiccation sensitivity between developmental stages and among years, provenances, species and genera. The seeds of all 16 species were shed with high axis water contents (2.25 ± 1.34 to 6.95 ± 0.89 g g− 1) and were sensitive to desiccation, with WC V = 80 values ranging from 0.13 to 3.15 g g− 1. Germination in amaryllids is unusual in that part of the cotyledon, to which the embryonic axis is attached, grows right out of the seed. It is at this stage that the axes were found to be more desiccation-sensitive in six out of nine species investigated. Seed fresh mass (SFM), axis shedding water content (SWC) and the degree of desiccation sensitivity were species characteristic. SWC, SFM and drying time were not significantly related to desiccation sensitivity. Parent plants were not confined to any particular biome type, occurring in areas characterized by seasonal dry spells. Parent plant habitat and seed characteristics were not useful in predicting the degree of desiccation sensitivity across species belonging to the same family.