Eucomis - Topic of the Week

David Fenwick
Sun, 10 Aug 2003 14:32:57 PDT
Topic of the Week - Eucomis

Eucomis are a small genus of 11 species that belong to the Hyacinthaceae, 10
species of which, come from South Africa, the other species; Eucomis
zambesiaca, coming from highland regions of Malawi. First introduced into
cultivation in the UK well over 200 years ago.

Chromosome number 2n=15 or 16 (Darlington and Wylie, 1955).

E. zambesiacea - a smaller species with brilliant white flowers on a spike
approximately 30cm high, and rosette 45cm across.

All are summer flowering with the exception of E. regia, which comes from
the Cape region, and winter rainfall area.

The South African species include-

E. comosa var. comosa syn. E. punctata - shade tolerant and with a
preference to moist soils, this species has long strap like leaves forming
its rosette, leaf length approximately 60cm long, bearing flowers approx
90cm high. Many forms of this plant are in cultivation, and the leaves can
be quite variable in colour, and from light green to a dark burgundy.
Flowers usually white, but sometimes pinky, or purplish.

E. comosa var. striata - leaf reverse striated purple, with spotted spike,
smaller than many forms of E. comosa.  Flowers to 40-60cm high, leaves
smaller and more prostrate than comosa. A nice plant well worth growing.

E. schijffii - dwarf species growing to approximately 35cm tall, forming a
dumpy rosette; reverse of leaves maroon tinged, sometimes with rolled or
curled edges, comes from high mountainous areas such as Sentinel Peak.

E. autumnalis subsp. amaryllidifolia syn. E. amaryllidifolia - A rarer
subspecies of the frequently grown E. autumnalis, produces reasonably thick
ovate prostrate leaves in a rosette fashion, white flowers.

E. autumnalis subsp. autumnalis syn. E. undulata - The most commonly
cultivated  form of E. autumnalis in the UK, forms a dense rosette of strap
like leaves with undulating edges. White or white / green flowers on spikes
around 60cm high. Flowers of this species may turn green on exposure to
strong sunshine.

E. autumnalis subsp. clavata syn. E. robusta - Can be found growing in open
grassland or marshes covering quite a wide area of the Drakensberg,
including Kwazulu-Natal and Lesotho, and can also be found at altitude on
Sentinel Peak. White flowers and becoming more common in cultivation.

E. bicolor - Plant forming a large rosette of wide leaves, to 75cm across,
leaves spotted or unspotted on reverse. Flower height 60cm or so, produces
large heads of flowers which are wider at the top, which are covered in a
rosette of smaller bract like leaves, giving the species its pineapple
appearance. The is also a white flowered form of this species, 'Alba', which
is slightly smaller in proportion.

E. montana - Yet another species I have not flowered yet, but the typical
feature of the plants I have are in the length and width of the leaves which
don't form a typical rosette here. Indeed, sometimes only two or three, long
and wide, shiny, red edged leaves are produced on an annual basis. Something
tells me I may be watering it too much. Superb foliage, leaves up to 60cm
and 10cm wide.

E. pole-evansii - The largest species of the genus, which in the wild
prefers wetland habitats. However, it will grow in average garden soils, if
regularly irrigated. Leaves over 1 meter long, wide at base tapering along
their length, flowers to about 1.2m here. They make a very bold statement
but it's a shame the spikes tend to bend over, thus they do sometimes need

E. humilis - A species I know nothing about as it's the only one I haven't
seen. Apparently this small species has light green short dumpy leaves with
a short dumpy spike of pinkish flowers.

E. vandermewei - Dwarf species, with a small rosette of purple spotted
leaves. Leaves of this species are approx 20cm long, pointed and slightly
undulate at their edge. Short spike of purplish burgundy flowers. This
species can be slightly variable in its markings.

E. regia subsp. regia and E. regia subsp. pillansii - I don't think the
latter is known in cultivation in the UK, and this is primarily because
there are very few people that grow this winter flowering species. I must
admit, it is a little tricky, it doesn't like being wet at all, and easily
rots. It will also 'sleep' readily, and remain dormant and skip a year. I
haven't flowered it yet here, but it produces what I would describe as spoon
shaped light green leaves, which taper to their base. Perhaps someone can
enlighten us more. Germination is easy, but seedlings have grown very

The name Eucomis is derived from the Greek word Eukomos, meaning
'Beautifully Haired'. Their common name, to which they are referred 'the
pineapple lily', is very well deserved. However, I'm often amazed at the
number of people who when told their common name, go and smell them, and
expect them to smell of pineapple as well. They then get quite an unpleasant
surprise when they do as their smell can be quite unpleasant and often
foetid, as they attract flies of various descriptions for their pollination,
and I've noted green bottles, bluebottles, house flies and horse flies
pollinating them. Growing around 50 forms though has not yet upset my wife,
and it would seem that the flies, which might have once come into the house
now prefer to stay outside.

All the above species I have found to be hardy to at least -5C, and most
will also tolerate winter rainfall during the dormant season. All are
planted at a depth of between 4 and 5 inches deep, with the exception of E.
vandermewei, 2 inches, and thus to prevent frost damage, as frosts can
penetrate the ground here to a depth of about three inches.

I find it very strange that these bulbs are marketed as being half-hardy
only, and that they need a sunny spot. Nothing is further from the truth, as
I have found most species to be frost hardy, even those I keep in pots, but
further to this they must have some shade at least. All of the above tend to
loose water from their leaves, and become limp very quickly if grown in full
sun, and especially if grown in pots, and even if well watered.

I tell garden visitors here, that I treat them in a similar manner to
Clematis, planting them where their roots can remain cool and moist during
summer months. Their foliage where to can come through but not be over
shaded out by other bulbs or plants, and to the effect that their flowers
can be appreciated as they deserve during the flowering period.

Indeed, I believe Eucomis could make very good plants for north facing
borders, if planted deeply and given a little protection in frosty areas.
They rise from the ground in the very late in spring or early summer, thus
there is little chance of their buds being damaged by late frosts. Indeed I
have found that I can grow them with Gladiolus x colvillei or tristis
planted directly around their base, as the colvillei will often flower and
dieback before the Eucomis break surface.

Horticulturally, Eucomis are becoming quite fashionable, and this recent
popularity has lead to the breeding or selection of numerous hybrids.
Hybrids are currently being produced both in the UK, Germany, Holland,
Australia and New Zealand. The latter, by IBS member, and well known
nurseryman David Hatch. It would seem that more and more gardeners are
looking for things a bit more unusual and interesting for their gardens
nowadays. The ease of propagation has also meant that they can be
commercially supplied very easily. A few hybrids offered in the UK are being
micro-propagated, and such is the case with Eucomis comosa 'Sparkling
Burgundy', but I often wonder how this might effect the quality of plants
offered, as Eucomis can vary even from taking larger leaf cuttings.

Eucomis propagate easily from leaf cuttings, and different people have
different methods of doing it. I've heard of various methods and these
include; 6mm square pieces on agar, postage stamp sized cuttings in water;
and my un-technical method of cut the leaf up put it in compost and hope,
which usually works if the leaves don't rot off soon afterwards. However,
has anyone tried leaf cuttings of E. schijffii or E. vandermewei, I've
noticed these rot off quicker, what's the secret?

The following is a list of many of the selections that are currently
available across the globe. Some may be more widely available than stated.

List of hybrids

bicolor 'Alba' - UK
bicolor 'Stars & Stripes' - UK  (New release 2003)
autumnalis 'White Dwarf' - UK
comosa 'Cornwood' - UK
comosa 'Oakhurst' - USA
comosa 'Rubrum' - NL
comosa 'Sparkling Burgundy' - USA & UK *
comosa 'Sparkling Rosie' - NZ
pole-evansii 'Burgundy' - UK
pole-evansii 'Purpurea' - UK
'African Bride' - UK (New release 2003)
'Dark Hybrid' - AUS
'First Red' - UK & Germany *
'Frank Lawley' - UK
'John Huxtable' - UK
'John Treasure' - UK *
'Joy White' - NZ
'Joy's Purple' - UK
'Pink Sensation' - AUS
'Playa Blanca' - NL (Any news of its release will be appreciated)
'Royal Burgundy' - UK (New)
'Roze Selectie' syn. 'Rose Selection' - NL *
'Swazi Pride' - UK (New release 2003)
'Victoria Joy' - NZ
'Zeal Bronze' - UK *

Quite a few of the above hybrids have really nice purple, purplish or rose
colour rosettes. Of those I have, I have marked the best with an asterisk. I
must admit though, I do not have and haven't seen any of the new New Zealand
hybrids by David Hatch.

UK - United Kingdom
USA - United States of America
NL - Holland
AUS - Australia
NZ - New Zealand

Photos of some of these hybrids may be found on my website, on the following

References -
Herbertia Volume 55 2000 - one of the best references I have seen regarding
this genus.

Peter Knippels -

Plant Finder UK -

Plant Finder NZ -

Plant Delights Catalogue -…
But Tony, don't try them in mixed drinks, but they're a bit poisonous. But
then your not hardy unless you've killed yourself at least three times.

Best Wishes,
Dave (Plymouth, UK)


David Fenwick
NCCPG National Collection of Crocosmia with Chasmanthe and Tulbaghia
The African Garden
96 Wasdale Gardens

Outgoing mail is certified Virus Free.
Checked by AVG anti-virus system (
Version: 6.0.507 / Virus Database: 304 - Release Date: 04/08/03

More information about the pbs mailing list