I WAS GIVEN A POT OF EUCOMIS BICOLOR, the so-called pineapple lily (guess how it got that name), by a friend who was moving and couldn’t take it along. Why had I forgotten how easy this wacky-looking South African character, whose genus name means well-haired because of the tuft of brachts topping the flowerhead, is for overwintering in the basement here? From its moptop to the purple-mottled stems and freckled leaves to its long-lasting, trouble-free performance, there’s nothing about Eucomis bicolor that I don’t like—except that I don’t have more.
When I was given my pot in May, only some of its purple-spotted foliage was showing; Eucomis bicolor awakens relatively late in spring. I set the pot absent-mindedly in the sun on a bench by the front walk, and watered it each week—but that’s it. The foliage would have been a satisfying result enough, but then in July the flowers started. (OK, maybe the plant does have one little downside: The blooms are not sweet-scented, but kind of funky-smelling.) The pot probably has five bulbs in it—the three my friend planted and some younger offsets that aren’t blooming size yet. Even the first bulb that bloomed, more than a month ago, continues to look good, and is setting handsome green seeds.
You know I love “investment plants” that serve to color up the main gardening season year after year but stash easily indoors—whether as houseplants proper, or dormant in the 45-to-50ish-degree cellar like the Eucomis, or (for the toughest of all) just protected from the ice and wind inside the frigid barn. I am definitely making room for more pots of pineapple lily and its various cousins. With the Eucomis, topdress with all-natural organic bulb food according to package directions when the bulbs begin to awaken and you are watering again each spring, and keep the bulbs well-watered while in active growth for best display.
Other Eucomis species are well-represented at B&D Lilies, among other places, but here’s the hitch: You can’t get them from bulb-vendors until the spring catalog. Plant Delights Nursery sells them potted, like nursery perennials, including ‘Sparkling Burgundy,’ with fantastic wine-colored foliage. I’m tempted to order now.
Eucomis can be propagated by seed, I have since read, but take four years to reach flowering size. A Pacific Bulb Society member recommends growing them from leaf cuttings, and starting from the Eucomis page on their site you can see a wide range of species and varieties. Perhaps you are lucky enough to garden in a zone where some of them are hardy?