Wednesday 13 March 2019

Eucomis, the pineapple plant

This eucomis has flowered each year for forty years
Forty years ago I picked up a small pineapple plant at the lovely walled nursery at Buttercrambe. I popped it in what was then my fairly new Bolton Percy cemetery garden. Since that time and with no special attention it has flowered each year but I regret it now barely survives! So much so when I decided last year to try a piece of it on my sandy soil at home the plants’s roots were so entangled between two gravestones I dare not risk moving it! 

On the other hand at home I have been growing two clones of Eucomis comosum that I first raised from seed nearly twenty years ago. Since then I have propagated it vegetatively by division and now have a dozen or so clumps - some which have been in place more than a decade and contain up to 30 bulbs.

This, my strongest clump has looked like this every year for ten years now
My original seed stock came from a seed distribution scheme. It was sown in my usual way in a pot of compost on receipt in January in my unheated greenhouse.
Only three seeds germinated, all different. One got lost along the way, the other two distinct forms now go from strength to strength in four separate gardens.

After flowering six or more weeks my white one looks a little tired now
Garden visitors express surprise to see them and most have the silly notion that they are not very hardy. I suspect the idea arises because some modern fancy cultivars are only suitable for more delicate conditions (and lets face it a plant with a dodgy constitution suits the garden centres very well). I suspect most purchasers get small delicate bulbs or plants that have suffered the sales bench too long. This is an example of garden centre affliction and if you get through the first winter you might be home and dry.
My further evidence about the hardiness of eucomis is that all my plants (all outside) survived the double Winter of 2010 when the ground was frozen solid for a very long time.
My testimony applies to just three forms and I cannot of course vouch for the hardiness of all eucomis.

I find my own in-garden eucomis transplanting and division hardly ever fails. That is saying something as eucomis bulbs are so firmly attached to their deep strong roots in old clumps that I need the help of an axe. Some very dodgy sliced bulbs have survived! Eucomis is as tough as old boots with a fine constitution.

Demonstration of division

Remains of dead eucomis leaves when I propagated in February

Exposed deeply rooted bulbs exposed by scraping debris away

Roots are so firmly attached that hammer needed to knock spade in

A really rough hack out

It's beyond my strength to remove the stem structure beneath the bulb
Most gardening books give the (incorrect) mandatory advice to plant in well drained soil. In their native South Africa they dwell in damp habitats and in the lower parts of my own garden they survived last Winter’s flooding with the dormant clumps barely above the flood water for three months. The village plot suffered similar flooding and eucomis came through. They do really well in  wet parts of a garden (but not in a bog).

Well established eucomis bulbs emerging in Early April
Puzzling pollination
I believe some gardeners find eucomis seed themselves all over. As far as I know mine have never set seed.
I was alerted last month to the interesting pollination of a South African species by the delightful elephant shrew (apparently closer genetically to an elephant than a shrew) and cannot resist giving a link to the delightful video (below).
It would seem that eucomis pollinators are directed by scent and not colour. Most are pollinated by flies and specific wasp species which search for the nectar. The scent is variously described as boiled potatoes, sulphurous or foetid. I have never noticed.
This year I will be watching closely and even try some hand pollination. I might get seed to give to my friends.

The white one is my favourite but seems to have less vigour than my pink one

This clump is doing well on Cathi's grass verge in its second year after rather messy division
Both the eucomis and the ginger seem to do well together in one of the wetter parts of my garden

As I write the lawn is under water- just like January and February last year!
The  charming video of elephant shrew and eucomis from Botany One


  1. I've been having my eye on growing one of these...thanks for showing that it thrives and what it looks like in a garden setting. Did you leave the aeonium, which is posing in the picture with the white eucomis, all winter in the garden?

    1. Well spotted Stasher
      Definitely no to aeonium - they will stand hardly any frost at all - unlike my hardy cacti!
      I have to admit to now abandoning the effort of overwintering aeonium

    2. I fell over with a large ceramic pot which fell on top of I too shall be reviewing what to do next autumn. Also I no longer feel like heating the conservatory on the really frosty nights. I have enjoyed my aeoniums, which I shall post about on Saturday....and will be looking to wind them down!

    3. Oh dear, hope you are ok. We have recently seen wonderful aeonium in the wild - in Tenerife! We used to keep ours in our heated 'live in' conservatory but it would tend to drop leaves and be very untidy

  2. I do love this plant. It is not hardy here but they grow it at the Chicago Botanic Garden, bringing it outside when the weather warms.

    1. I know from your recent posts how VERY cold you get Jason.

  3. I have grown an unknown eucomis in a trough on a sunny roof in London for at least 30 years.
    The flowers tend to flop over and are impossible to support. This maybe due to soil depth, about 12" or lack of water. Maybe less of a problem if planted in a garden.


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