Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily)
Pineapple lily is a summer-flowering, bulbous perennial with an impressive, long-lasting display of star-shaped flowers.
Eucomis bicolor inflorescence (Photo: Mike Peel, licensed under CC BY 2.5)
Eucomis bicolor Baker
pineapple lily, pineapple flower (English); bontpynappelblom, bospynappellelie (Afrikaans); imbola, umbola (Zulu); kxampumpu-ya-thaba (Sotho)
Near Threatened in South Africa according to IUCN Red List criteria.
Forest and grassland; often on mountain slopes, cliffs and along watercourses.
Ornamental, traditional medicine.
None known, although the bulbs of other species, such as Eucomis autumnalis, are toxic if ingested.
About this species
Eucomis bicolor was described in 1878 by English botanist John Gilbert Baker. The most commonly cultivated of ten known species of Eucomis, pineapple lily is often used to give a tropical appearance to temperate gardens. Flowers are long-lasting, making pineapple lily an excellent late-summer to autumn interest plant.
The generic name Eucomis derives from the Greek eukomos meaning ‘lovely-haired’ and refers to the crown of leafy bracts at the top of the flowering stem.
Geography and distribution
Eucomis bicolor is native to South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland, where it is found up to 2,800 m above sea level.
Overview: Bulbous perennial with basal rosette of strap-shaped leaves.
Leaves: Green, shiny, oblong, up to 50×10 cm, with a wavy margin.
Scape (stalk arising from ground level and bearing flowers): Cylindrical, up to 60 cm long, with maroon blotches.
Flowers: Borne in a dense cluster at the top of the scape and topped by a crown of sterile, leafy bracts. Individual flowers are star-shaped, composed of six tepals (undifferentiated petals and sepals) that are fused at the base. Tepals are cream with distinct maroon edges. Each flower contains six stamens and a three-angled ovary.
Flowers are pollinated almost exclusively by flies in the families Calliphoridae (blowflies), Muscidae (including house flies) and Sarcophagidae (flesh flies). The floral scent includes sulphur compounds attractive to carrion flies.
Cultivars available include Eucomis bicolor ‘Alba’, which has uniformly green-white tepals.
Threats and conservation
Pineapple lily is threatened by collection from the wild for use in traditional medicine. This practice is thought to be responsible for a 20% reduction in populations in the last 75 years.
Pineapple lily is cultivated as an ornamental for its impressive, long-lasting display of star-shaped flowers. The leaves also provide textural interest.
Bulbs of Eucomis species are used in Zulu, Tswana, Sotho and Xhosa traditional medicine. Bulbs and root shavings are boiled in water or milk and used as ingredients in infusions to treat pain and fever. Extracts from E. bicolor are also used to treat colic and as a purgative. Scientific research has found bulb and root extracts to have anti-inflammatory activity.
Pineapple lily can be grown in a glasshouse maintained at a minimum of 10°C when the plant is in growth and 4°C when dormant. In mild areas it can be grown outside if protected with a thick covering of mulch during winter or else bulbs can be lifted, cleaned and kept in a cool, dry place until spring.
When planting outdoors during autumn, bulbs should be placed about 15 cm deep in rich, well-drained soil. Indoors, one bulb should be placed in a 12.5 cm pot, with the bulb tips just showing at the surface of the soil. Dormant bulbs should be watered sparingly.
Flowering occurs in late summer and lasts well into autumn, although there is leaf interest from spring throughout much of the year.
This species at Kew
Pineapple lily can be seen growing in the borders around Kew’s Temperate House and in the Southern Hemisphere Garden at Wakehurst.
Pressed and dried specimens of Eucomis bicolor are held in Kew’s Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details of some of these specimens, including images, can be seen online in Kew’s Herbarium Catalogue.
Huxley, A., Griffiths, M. & Levy, M. (eds) (1997). The New Royal Horticultural Society Dictionary of Gardening, Volume 2 (D–K). The Stockton Press, New York.
Koorbanally, C., Crouch, N. R. & Mulholland, D. A. (2006). The phytochemistry and ethnobotany of the southern African genus Eucomis (Hyacinthaceae: Hyacinthoideae). In: Phytochemistry: Advances in Research, ed. F. Imperato, pp. 69–85, Research Signpost.
Main image: Mike Peel, licensed under CC BY 2.5. Available online
Shuttleworth, A. & Johnson, S. D. (2010). The missing stink: sulphur compounds can mediate a shift between fly and wasp pollination systems. Proceedings of the Royal Society B 277: 2811–2819.
Taylor, J. L. S. & van Staden, J. (2001). COX-1 inhibitory activity in extracts from Eucomis L'Herit. species. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 75: 257–265.
Williams, V. L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N. R., Cunningham, A. B., Scott-Shaw, C. R., Lötter, M., Ngwenya, A. M. & von Staden, L. (2008). Eucomis bicolor Baker. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants, version 2012.1. Available online (accessed 17 May 2012).
Kew science editors: Anna Trias Blasi and Philip Ostley
Kew contributors: David Cooke
Copyediting: Rhian Smith, Emma Tredwell
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