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Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily)

Pineapple lily is a summer-flowering, bulbous perennial with an impressive, long-lasting display of star-shaped flowers.

Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily) inflorescence

Eucomis bicolor inflorescence (Photo: Mike Peel, licensed under CC BY 2.5)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Eucomis bicolor Baker

Common name: 

pineapple lily, pineapple flower (English); bontpynappelblom, bospynappellelie (Afrikaans); imbola, umbola (Zulu); kxampumpu-ya-thaba (Sotho)

Conservation status: 

Near Threatened in South Africa according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Forest and grassland; often on mountain slopes, cliffs and along watercourses.

Key Uses: 

Ornamental, traditional medicine.

Known hazards: 

None known, although the bulbs of other species, such as Eucomis autumnalis, are toxic if ingested.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Asparagales
Family: 
Asparagaceae
Genus: Eucomis

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.

Genus: 
Eucomis

Discover more

Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily) leaves

Emerging basal leaves of Eucomis bicolor (Photo: Phillip Ostley)

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.

Description

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.

Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily) shoot

Emerging shoot of Eucomis bicolor (Photo: Phillip Ostley)

Uses

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.

Cultivation

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

Eucomis bicolor (pineapple lily) specimen

Dried specimen of Eucomis bicolor from Kew's Herbarium

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.

View details and images of Eucomis bicolor

References and credits

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

Although every effort has been taken to ensure that the information contained in these pages is reliable and complete, notes on hazards, edibility and suchlike included here are recorded information and do not constitute recommendations. No responsibility will be taken for readers’ own actions.

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