Once you start growing the pineapple lily, you’ll slap yourself and wonder why you haven’t been growing it for years. The ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ cultivar was the first to shock me at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Garden at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia, as it was thriving in what I might normally consider extreme conditions. It was and still is growing in full sun with practically no attention from horticulture staff and zero irrigation. It is there every year, blooming with a ‘Shoal Creek’ vitex, firebush and torch lily in a unique combination.
The pineapple lily is known botanically as “Eucomis comosa” and, oddly enough, finds itself in the asparagus family. It is from South Africa and looks like one of the most exquisite plants you could ever grow in the landscape. The plants reach around 2 feet tall and wide with handsome, strapped leaves. If it never bloomed, you could consider using this plant for the texture it provides to the garden.
It does bloom with an amazing display of small, starry florets that open from the bottom up on a thick, 24-inch-tall flower stalk. The bloom period lasts for six to eight weeks, but it seems that the bloom stalk remains effective from mid-June through summer in the Savannah area.
You may select a site with full sun for the pineapple lily, although we are seeing that a little afternoon shade or shifting light works as well. The soil should be fertile and well-drained, especially for winter survival. Winter hardiness might be a consideration for the pineapple lily as it is recommended for zones 6 through 9.
If your soil is tight and heavy, then incorporate 3 to 4 inches of organic matter for good aeration and drainage or plant the pineapple lily on raised beds like commercial landscapers. While you are preparing your bed, work in a slow-release preplant fertilizer, like a 12-6-6 with minor nutrients. Use about 2 pounds per 100 square feet of bed space.
In our area, most gardeners have been buying 6-inch or gallon-sized, container-grown pineapple lilies. In this situation, plant so that the top of the root ball is even with the soil surface. I do know that a lot of gardeners buy bulbs that are planted in the well-prepared beds about 6 inches deep.
The blooms do resemble a pineapple and are ever so tropical looking, allowing the plant to be partnered with canna lilies, bananas and upright elephant ears. It also looks at home with ornamental grasses swaying in the breeze, partnered with drifts of flowers that you might otherwise think are wildflowers.
Consider pineapple lily for courtyard gardens or Grandma’s cottage garden. We have several in the Coastal Botanical Gardens’ Cottage Garden that are growing in partnership with hummingbird mints, Joe Pye weed and native monarda. As your clump expands and your flower stalks increase in number, you can surprise the flower-arranging group at church with the most stunning bouquet of all.
We are growing the deep-burgundy leafed selection known as ‘Sparkling Burgundy,’ the exquisite, green 'Glow Sticks,' and another that sports burgundy blushes called ‘Oakhurst.’ They are all to be treasured and internet searches will show you even more selections that you will want to try.
I promise the pineapple lily will be a huge surprise and will make you wonder why in the world you are just now trying it. Don’t delay another year! Get it growing this summer.
(Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.)