Scientific Name: Eucomis spp.
Common Names: Pineapple Lilies
Plant Type: Perennial herbaceous bulb
Environment: Best grown in moist, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun. Tolerates some shade, but best flowering and foliage color occur in full sun.
Bloom: Summer to fall at the Garden.
Uses: Excellent garden plants, for groupings or focal points. Great for cut flowers that have a long vase life.
Other: Eucomis bulbs are toxic and can be harmful if ingested in large quantities, but some are used for medicinal purposes. The flowers have an unpleasant odor and attract flies, bees and other insects.
South Africa is one of the most botanically rich countries of the world. Within its boundaries is the Cape Floristic Region, considered a botanical wonderland, isolated by ocean on its west, south, and east, and arid land to its north, giving rise to rich diversity. UNESCO has labeled it a World Heritage Site, containing more than 9000 vascular plants, 69% of them found nowhere else in the world. This region boasts more than 2,700 species of bulbs including the remarkable Pineapple Lilies, Eucomis.
The genus Eucomis consists of about 11 species that occur in southern Africa, Zimbabwe, and Malawi. Ten of these species occur in all provinces of South Africa, as well as in Botswana, Lesotho, and Swaziland, where they are found widespread in grasslands, forests, swamps, and river banks, but absent in drier areas.
The different species of Eucomis look similar to each other, varying primarily in size and color. Some have purple-speckled foliage, which has given rise to interesting cultivars with purple leaves.
Eucomis derives its scientific name from the Greek eu for "good" and komefor "hair", or "good hair", implying a beautiful head from the tuft of leaf-like bracts crowning the flower spike. Perhaps an alternate common name might be the Good Hair Day Lily!
The common name that is most often used, Pineapple Lily, refers to the thick central stalk, tightly packed with small, six-petal, star-like flowers and its topknot of bracts, which make it look very much like a pineapple.
Pineapple Lily flower stalks last for ages and make fine cut flowers. In the garden you can count on weeks of tiny, waxy flowers opening in succession, and after the purplish petals have faded the spike is still very attractive.
Eucomis has been cultivated in England for more than 200 years and as a result there are many available cultivars. They are hardy and easy to grow, adding a tropical-like lushness to a garden. Pineapple Lilies can also be grown in containers and make an attractive centerpiece when in bloom.
The flowers of most species are greenish-white, sometimes marked with maroon or purple. Cultivars can don red, burgundy, and violet-colored leaves and flowers. In California, Pineapple Lilies are available from May through August.
Eucomis are late summer or fall bloomers. In the Garden, they need full sun, well-drained soil, and some protection from winter rains which might rot its four-inch bulb. In its winter dormancy it can survive temperatures down to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It can be grown from its shiny, round, black seeds or from bulblets separated from its underground bulb. Enjoy these surprising beauties in the Garden:
Eucomis autumnalis, the Autumn Pineapple Lily grows to 16" rising from a basal rosette of broad, waxy leaves. The species name suggests that this plant blooms in the fall, but at SFBG it blooms as early as July. The stalk is topped with up to 125 flowers that are greenish-white in color. The three-chambered fruits ripen to produce shiny black round seeds which are also attractive. Bed 16B
Eucomis bicolor, the Variegated Pineapple Lily grows from one to two feet tall and boasts maroon-speckled stems and green flowers with maroon margins. The flowers' stalks are crowned by tufts of green bracts also edged in maroon. The Latin name bicolor means "two-colored," and refers to the flowers and bracts which are mostly green, edged in maroon. Close up it has an unpleasant smell. Beds 26B, 27B, 27G, 27H, 44B
Eucomis comosa, formerly known as Eucomis punctata, means "spotted". However, the leaves are rarely spotted. Some forms do have spots on the underside of the leaves. This Pineapple Lily features a basal rosette of wavy-edged, green leaves which spread upward and outward to two feet. From each rosette of leaves, a thick, purple-spotted stalk with delicate maroon-striped flowers rises like a hundred tiny stars.
Eucomis comosa 'Oakhurst' is a lovely cultivar that grows to be a clump about one and a half feet tall and wide, sending up a deep maroon flower stalk under the many pink, star-like flowers. The leaves of the basal rosette are green, edged in maroon. Bed 5E
Eucomis comosa 'Toffee' is a Pineapple Lily cultivar having a rosette of fleshy foliage that emerges with toffee-colored bands and undulating margins. In summer, the clumps are topped with 20" tall, purple flower spikes covered with light pink flowers. Bed 5E
Eucomis comosa 'Tugela Jade' forms a rosette of fleshy green leaves, topped in August with 18" tall flower spikes that are chartreuse in bud and then open to pure white. It is named after the Tugela River that runs through South Africa's Drakensberg Mountains where Eucomis comosa is native. Bed 5E
Eucomis pole-evansii is the largest and tallest in this group, reaching three to six feet. The conical flower stalk has very fragrant green flowers and is topped with a peacock tuft of green, leaf-like bracts. Bed 27B
Eucomis vandermerwei is a threatened alpine species with unusual maroon flowers and dark green leaves with deep maroon markings and strong, wavy margins. It is a protected species, currently known from only six to eight populations in the wild. Eucomis vandermerwei is the only species with cryptic leaf coloration. The maroon-spotted leaves provide camouflage in reducing herbivore damage by blending with surrounding rocks and short grass cover. The strongly foetid flowers are probably pollinated by carrion feeders. Bed 27G
IN BLOOM CONTRIBUTORS: Text: Kathy McNeil & Mona Bourell. Profile: Mona Bourell. Photos: Joanne Taylor, Brendan Lange, Mona Bourell, David Kruse-Pickler, James Gaither.