Bulb of the Month: Pineapple Lilies (Eucomis spp.)

Here’s another bulb that anyone can grow yet never fails to draw admiring comments and praise for your horticultural prowess. There are two varieties of Eucomis, which is native to South Africa. All cultivars share a characteristic flower form topped by a tuft of foliage. One look at the photo and you can see how they got their common name. Their pineapple-like flower spikes emerge from a basal rosette of lovely foliage that is often spotted or streaked with purple. The combination of foliage and midsummer flower is both striking and playful.

Eucomis can be grown in the garden but I’ve achieved best results by growing them in containers. In fact, I grow almost all my summer flowering bulbs in pots. Eucomis bulbs are perennial and live for many years, provided that you remember to bring them indoors in the fall for their winter rest. Growing them in pots is a bonus, because pots are portable. It’s far easier to remember to bring your pots indoors than to dig up bulbs from your garden. And you can place the pots in a prominent position while they’re flowering, and afterwards move them elsewhere.

Pot up  Eucomis bulbs in the spring when the risk of frosts are past in any well-draining soil. The depth and spacing varies with the species: three big bulbs to a 10″ pot or five small bulbs to an 8″ pot. They like full sun and moderate moisture. Feed them every other week with half strength, balanced (even-number such as 20-20-20) fertilizer. I remove the spent flowers to direct the plants’ energy to bulb growth. Another plus is that Eucomis bulbs produce offsets. The easiest way to increase your stock is to remove these and plant them up separately.

Here are some of my favourites (so far!):

Aloha Leia
Golden State Bulb Growers introduced this variety a few years ago. I’ve been unable to find out its parentage but it is a medium-sized Eucomis whose claim to fame is its extraordinary, summer-long production of reddish-pink flowers and its subtle fragrance.

Eucomis autumnalis

Greenish-white flowers with wavy-edged foliage grow from big bulbs. A classic.

Purple-edged green flowers, quite unusual and intriguing. Produces medium-sized bulbs.

Eucomis comosa
Pinkish-white flowers on purple stocks. E.comosa has been used extensively in hybridizing, such as E. Sparkling Burgundy with its purple spring foliage. E.comosa makes huge bulbs.

Eucomis vandermerwei
I’d grow this miniature form for its remarkable purple-spotted foliage alone, but it also produces cute purple-brown flowers. Makes small bulbs.

I know there are skeptics out there, but Eucomis really are as easy to grow and as long-lived as I say. I should know. For a long time, I’ve been lavishing them with neglect while enjoying their repeat performance every year.

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