If you like something different and unusual in your garden, then the Pineapple Lily may be just the thing for you. Easy to grow and not bothered by pests, the Pineapple Lily is also a good plant for those who have a brown thumb. The Pineapple Lily is a plant that plant connoisseurs and beginners alike can share.
The Pineapple Lily is not related to pineapples or lilies. It is a native of South Africa and related to Hyacinths. It gets its common name from its flowers, which look like small pineapples. Until recently it was rarely seen in gardens, but more and more gardeners are discovering the charms of Pineapple Lilies and more Eucomis species are being brought into the marketplace. There are about 10 native Eucomis species and some variations among those species. Pineapple Lily species are also being crossed to produce new varieties.
Pineapple Lilies have long, straplike foliage and form a rosette of foliage. The leaves are thick and tough and have a milky sap. Some leaf edges may be wavy, others straight. In some species of Eucomis the leaves are green, in other species the leaves are mottled or spotted with purple or are maroon- purple. Pineapple Lily plants are rarely more than 8 to 10 inches high, but the flower spikes may rise another foot above the basal rosette.
Pineapple Lilies grow from a bulb that looks similar to a hyacinth bulb. Like most bulbs they require a rest period before they bloom again, and they will lose their leaves and become dormant during this time. Eucomis plants produce bulblets abundantly and quickly become large clumps.
It is the flower of Pineapple Lilies that make them interesting. They arise on long stalks from the center of the plant and form a cluster at the top. The actual flower is small, with six petals, but large sepals, which make them appear more substantial, back them. At the top of the flower cluster a tuft of small leaves will grow; this gives the appearance of pineapples. Flower color ranges from greenish-white to purple, depending on the species. Pineapple Lily flowers have a light scent, which is fortunate, because it is not pleasant. Flies are attracted to the flowers and are probably the pollinators. Pineapple Lilies have a fairly long bloom time, beginning in early summer. The flowers eventually turn into fat, green seedpods, which will reseed in the garden in warm zones.
Growing Pineapple Lilies
Pineapple Lilies are hardy only to Zone 7, but the bulbs are easily lifted and brought inside to store for the winter in colder zones. Most gardeners will start with a bulb or a potted plant, but Pineapple Lilies can be started from seed. Depending on the Eucomis species and growing conditions, it can take from three to five years for a plant to bloom from seed.
Pineapple Lilies like rich, loose soil and full sun. They will grow in partial shade but will have fewer and smaller flowers. The soil or pot you plant Pineapple Lilies in should be drain well. They can be planted directly in the garden or in pots after all danger of frost has passed. In Zone 6 and above, it is wise to get them growing inside about six weeks before your last expected frost so that they will bloom earlier. Plant bulbs so that the top of the bulb is just below the soil surface.
Pineapple Lilies have few disease or insect problems and deer and rabbits avoid them. Pineapple Lilies rarely need fertilization if grown in good garden soil. In pots they may require a yearly feeding of a slow-release fertilizer when growth begins in the spring. Pineapple lilies are fairly drought-resistant. They do need warm, moist conditions to get them started after dormancy; after that they can withstand periods of dryness, but blooms will be better if they are watered during dry periods. Try not to let water stand in the center of the Pineapple Lilies, where the leaves form a vaselike area. This can cause Eucomis plants to rot. Water at the base of the plant if possible.
In Zone 6 and above, Pineapple Lily bulbs must be stored for the winter. After a hard frost in the fall or when the leaves have died back, either lift the whole pot or dig the bulbs and bring them inside. Do not let the bulbs freeze. I prefer to plant Pineapple Lily bulbs in large shallow pots that I sink into the garden soil. The whole pot is brought inside for winter. Eucomis bulbs can be stored in the pot, in a dark place, not watered, until early spring. Bulbs can also be stored in brown paper bags or cans of peat or sand. Do not store in plastic bags, the bulbs may rot. In spring, bring out the stored pots or repot bulbs and begin watering. Keep the pots in a sunny spot indoors until all danger of frost has passed.
Over time, pots of Pineapple Lily that are brought inside to winter will fill the pot with bulbs. These should be divided every few years and the pots refilled with fresh soil.
In warm zones Eucomis will also produce large clumps of bulbs in the garden after a few years. These should be dug up and thinned or separated every few years.
Some newer Pineapple Lilies on the market are Sparkling Burgundy (purple foliage, pinkish-purple flowers), Oakhurst (maroon-purple foliage and flowers) and Octopus, which is a dwarf variety. It has green, wavy-edged leaves spotted with purple and wine-colored flowers. Many times you will just find the common, green-leaved, white-flowered Pineapple Lily in garden stores, but these are delightful too.
Using Pineapple Lily
Pineapple Lilies are specimen plants for rock gardens, sunny dry borders or pots. The thick, sword-shaped foliage is an excellent texture contrast when used with smaller-leaved plants.
Forcing bulbs indoors means encouraging plants to grow and flower out of their natural environment and season. It can give you colorful flora, even in the dead of winter.