Eucomis - coconut or boiled cabbage
We suddenly seem to be surrounded (I'm not complaining!) by Eucomis - the pineapple plant or pineapple lily, so called because of the tuft of bracts on top of each flowering spike. It was introduced into this country in the 18th century and for some time was represented by only E. bicolor, a tall statuesque plant with hundreds of star-like pale limey green flowers clustered tightly round the flower spike, followed by attractive seeds giving almost a three month show. The only problem is it did smell of overcooked rather old cabbage! Now new varieties seem to be being introduced each year.
Due to climate change a number of these plants can be grown successfully outside. They do come from a part of South Africa where the summers are wet and the winters are dry so careful positioning is needed (or dig up in autumn and treat as dahlia tubers). Don't worry, rather like arisaemas they do not start to grow until May when you have almost given up ever seeing them again! Surprisingly they cannot tolerate a lot of sun liking their roots to be cool and moist. They can grow in grass but may be a touch exotic for our wild flower meadows!
The greatest range of flower colour is to be found in E. comosa which can vary from green, cream, white or pink, also with green, spotty or purple foliage. One of the best is 'Joys Purple' growing to about 30 cms (more or less; depending on growing conditions), flowers - a dark burgundy with foliage to match. E. zambesiaca has a scent of coconut and white flowers which are loved by butterflies.
They are relatively easy to propagate by either freshly sown seed (which can flower as a two year old) in autumn or spring, leaf cuttings in summer or division of established clumps in the autumn.
There is a National Collection in Hampshire which can be seen by appointment. Avon Bulbs (01460 242177) and Pennard Plants (01749 860039) both in Somerset offer a good range of plants.
First published in the Wilts & Avon Group Newsletter, September 2009
and subsequently in Cornucopia Issue 27.
© Copyright for this article: Alison Mayall
This article was taken from a copy of Cornucopia that was published in 2011. You could be reading these articles as they are published to a national audience, by subscribing to Cornucopia.