growing eucomis bicolor, or pineapple lily, in pots

full bloom eucomis bicolor
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.

eucomis bicolor spotted leaves
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.

eucomis bicolor in a pot
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 bloom detail
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?

  1. Terryk says:

    What a great plant. It definitely is a good choice for a pot so you can study/admire all the spotting and matching edging and color of the flowers.

  2. Alejandro says:

    Leaf cutting work great but I find that they reproduce themselves so willingly by offsets that I stopped propagating them by leaf cuttings. They spend the winter in the basement (frost free) without any care and they always come back. The burgundy leaf eucomis is also fantastic! To your list of plants to stash easily in the basement I would add Salva patens, the only salvia that I know of that has roots that resemble tubers. I treat it like I treat my dahlias.

  3. Amy says:

    I had one of the burgundy ones in the ground last year that i failed to dig up. With all the snow we had here in Western MA (ozone 5), it survived the winter and is just starting to bloom now. One tough plant…though I won’t try it again!

  4. Marie says:

    Yes, Terrik, I suspect your plant needs potting! I had some cape lily plants in a pot, as I am zone 5. They did great, but didn’t flower for years, that is, until the pot was bulging with foliage! Then, what a show!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Jeanette. I wish us both well in our first winter together with Eucomis. My friends have done it for years — so glad they gifted me a pot to get me inspired.

  5. nancy says:

    I recieved a pinaple lilly and it isso pretty however i live in az. and it gets really hot here in the summer would it be best to grow it inside and also when the flowers begin to look dry do i cut the stem and flowers off????

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Nancy. It’s supposed to be hardy to Zone 10, and you can see the map for its in-the-ground hardiness range here. It’s from South Africa, so I presume it knows how to deal with long dryspells, but I of course have not tried it in the arid zone of the U.S. so I am guessing. As for aftercare, yes, I would deadhead it (taking off the flower stem) but I’d let the leaves wither on their own, before removing them.

  6. Marie Susa says:

    I have had a Pineapple Lily for the past four years. My leaves are dark purple and the flower is awesome. I live in Zone 6 on L.I. NY and have kept it outdoors in the ground for four years. Today I looked and I have two plants growing now. Life is Good!

    1. margaret says:

      Hooray, Marie. Love hearing that. I just bought more bulbs and may try some in a protected spot in the ground myself!

  7. Eleanor Bigham says:

    I too have pineapple lily I have it planted near the house and leave it out all winter
    We are in zone 5 It just gets bigger and more full every year

  8. rosie says:

    I have one also. Just discovered it this spring. I was so excited by its picture, I bought one for my gramma, neighbor, aunt, and myself with the cute teacup pots for spring. They are lovely! The package says fragrant and excellent cut flowers. After its bloom, its fragrance is nothing to pleasant. It’s strange, very strange. Some call it stinky even and I can’t see it as a cut flower. Other than that….I absolutely love this new discovery!!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Rosie, and you are right: It stinks! :) Sweet story about the gifts you gave, however. Hope to see you again soon.

  9. Mary Strayer says:

    I am looking for other blooming bulbs to use as houseplants. I have the pineapply lily and love it. Any suggestions? Thanks.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Mary. You can force various outdoor bulbs into bloom a little ahead of time indoors. How to force bulbs indoors. Of course some (such as Amaryllis) are classic “houseplants”. Now if you really want to get into some rarities that are often grown in greenhouses (such as at botanical gardens) but less so by home gardeners as houseplants, maybe browse here.

  10. Tina Hess says:

    I have a pineapple lilie it did really well when I got it. Then started to die off. Have I done something wrong? My son gave it to me and he is a little upset I let it die. Do they die off in the fall/winter months?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Tina. Yes, they go dormant in later fall, through the next spring. Nothing you can do to stop that. I don’t know where you live, or if they are in a pot, but I simply move my pots into my cool (but not cold–like 45 or 50 F) cellar, dark and dry and no water all winter for them.

  11. Tina Hess says:

    I live in West Jordan Utah. They are in a pot. I don’t have a cellar I can put them under my stairs were it is cool and dark. but I still have green leafs should I wait till it’s all brown? Thanks so much for your help. This will make my son happy I didn’t kill it. Lol

  12. Vikki says:

    I was given bulbs as a ‘mystery gift’, with the promise of a great surprise! As I didn’t know what they were, I planted them in a pit and put on a sunny windowsill and they started to grow, however, soon after producing some impressive purple spotted leaves, they started to wilt. I re-potted into a bigger pot as I thought that they might be suffocating each other and one started to show signs of a flower stem appearing. Nothing else has grown for ages and the leaves are still wilting. They are in my office in the UK; the window gets direct sunlight all day and they get watered maybe twice a week. They are spritzed with water and feed once a week

    I didn’t now what to do, so I begged my customer to tell me what they were so I could care for them and he pointed me to this page.

    Today I moved them to a bigger pot, with better drainage and have moved them out of direct sunlight to see if this helps.

    Does anyone have any advice or tips as I am determined to get them to flower!!

    1. margaret says:

      The RHS says well-drained, full sun, and feed in spring as they emerge. Like this. I don’t think these are happy as “houseplants” but want the outdoors — again, full sun.

  13. Diane Monette says:

    I grew them this year in a pot, brought them indoors when the weather started getting cold (zone 6). I was waiting for the foliage to die back so I could lift the bulbs, but they started sending up new plants. I had not watered them for months. It has been difficult to find information on the growth and care of these bulbs. I felt guilty and gave them a little water, not sure if I should have or not. It is January, I’m afraid by the time it warms up enough to take them outside, they will be “done”. Can they be grown without lifting, or will that affect their flowering? Any detailed information you can provide would be appreciated.
    Thank you!

    1. margaret says:

      I just leave them in the cellar dry all winter in their pots…and yes, some are mire resistant than others to going dormant here, too, but I don’t water them. The problem with bringing them into full active growth now is the light isn’t strong enough and of course it’s too cold outside, so I would just let them rest.

  14. kathy chambers says:

    Can the bulbs be separated and located in new pots …or do you leave them as they are and they spread out with new bulbs themselves without the dividing. Mine has reproduced this year…started with that one bulb and now there are like 8 more clusters came up around it. Thanks for your article and the advice you have for us all.

    1. margaret says:

      Every couple of years I do repot them when they do as you say, to give everyone room to develop, and some fresh soil and so on.

  15. Lucille Joannes says:

    I sowed some seed from a eucomis and the seedlings are now about four inches high…but they look nothing like eucomis and I can’t see how they will turn into a pineapple plant. Am wondering if I have somehow mis-labelled seed. Any thoughts?

    1. margaret says:

      I cannot see from here what they look like, and come to think of it I don’t know if I would recognize them. But many seedlings look nothing like the parent for quite some time.

  16. Dutch Gardener says:

    I am from Holland. My english is not that good. but i’ll try.
    I got eucomis in full ground. They are now flowering real good. I want to collect the seeds to create my own bulbs. Now my question is, what should the flower look like when the seeds are ready to collect? I would be sad if it gets wrong when i don’t collect the seeds at the right time.

    1. margaret says:

      Ken Druse and I tackled this question on the monthly Q&A podcast that will air this weekend (August 26). Will post that later today or tomorrow morning.

  17. Michael Dean says:

    Hello, I have pineapple lily seeds, and I was wondering if there was anything specific that I needed to know before planting them. Specifically, the start of the seed and how to plant and germinate the seed. Also can I keep this plant indoors year round and still have it bloom?

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Michael. Definitely not a houseplant for year-round indoor growing — it needs to rest in “winter” when the bulbs go dormant, not be kept watered and asked to keep growing. (I put my pots in my cellar, dry and cool — like 45ish — and dark, and forget them from November to April here). As for when/how to grow from seed I see so many conflicting recommendations. I will ask a friend who I think has done it.

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