Monday, September 20, 2010

Eucomis - Tropical Pineapple Lily

Of all the tropical bulbs I know, Pineapple Lily is one of the most amusing, resembling a tousle-headed cartoon character from outer space.  Long spikes up to 24" appear in late summer to early fall, bristling with hyacinth-like flowers and topped with a crown of leafy green.  Flower colors range from light green to purple.  The common name is inspired by the plant's resemblance to the tropical fruit.

Pineapple Lily belongs to the genus Eucomis (pronounced YOU-com-iss), which name is a combination of two Greek words meaning "beautiful hair of the head".  It is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family.  Eucomis comprises about a dozen species native to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Their native habitat includes grassy savannas, forests, near rivers and swamps.  They are rarely found in arid regions.

Eucomis was introduced in 1878 by the famous James Veitch and Sons nursery near Exeter.  The Veitch nursery was one of the most important nurseries in the UK.  The family is immortalized in the names of many ornamental landscape plants.

Eucomis adds a bold, tropical appearance to the landscape.  It is very suitable for perennial borders and container gardens.  An African or tropical theme garden would be incomplete without lots of them. 

Pineapple lily is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 7b to 11. Gardeners in colder climates lift and store them over winter for planting the following spring.  Take a sample of your garden soil to your local Cooperative Extension Service office before planting.  For a nominal fee, they will send it to a lab for analysis and recommendations.

Eucomis prefers full sun and average, well-drained garden soil.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8" deep, removing all traces of weeds.  A good all-around practice for bulbs and such is to mix 5 tablespoons of 10-10-10 fertilizer and 2 cups of bone meal per ten square feet area of bulb garden.  Repeat the application when growth appears, but be careful that fertilizer does not come into direct contact with plant tissue.

Plant the Eucomis bulbs about 4" deep.  Depth is measured to the bottom of the hole.  Space the bulbs 8" to 12" apart.

Eucomis requires very little maintenance.  It is perennial, so you can leave the plants undisturbed for years.  Water regularly, but don't over-water.  If planted in a windy area, the flower stalks may require staking.  After blooming, be sure to let the leaves yellow and die before cutting them.  Leaving them alone will allow the bulbs to build up food reserves for a glorious show the next year.

Though introduced over 130 years ago, Eucomis may be a new discovery to many gardeners, and perhaps to you.  If you've not tried this novel Pineapple Lily, you should include it in your garden this coming spring.

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