Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.
When I think of plants that are native to South Africa, I generally think of things like succulents which grow in desert conditions. I was surprised to learn that the tropical looking pineapple lily is also native to South Africa.
What are Pineapple Lilies?
Pineapple lilies (Eucomis spp.) are bulbous flowering perennials that are native to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. They look and grow like lilies, but they are not lilies. They are members of the Asparagaceae family, most closely related to hyacinths.
Here in the US, pineapple lilies are hardy in zones 7 – 10. Gardeners in colder growing zones grow them as annuals or dig up the bulbs and store them indoors over the winter. Pineapple lilies can be grown in the ground or in containers.
Depending on the species, pineapple lilies can grow 2 – 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide. The plants grow from a basal rosette of wide, strappy leaves that are dark green or in some species, burgundy.
The flowers grow from tall stems. They are funnel shaped and tightly packed on the stems. They open in succession from the bottom of the stalk to the top over a six to eight week period beginning in July. At the top of the flower stem is a small rosette of leaves. The flowers range in color from green or cream to the more colorful pink, purple or yellow. Some flowers may have purple edges or be striped.
The round barrel shape of the flowers topped with the rosette of leaves gives the appearance of a pineapple which is how the plant got its name.
Even the seeds are colorful. They start out purple and mature to black. You can leave them on the stem or remove the stem after the flowers are finished but before the seeds form.
How to Grow Pineapple Lilies
Pineapple lily bulbs should be planted in the spring after the last frost when the soil has warmed to 65°F. You can’t rush this. The bulbs won’t break dormancy in cold soil. Plant your bulbs 4 – 6 inches deep and 6 inches apart.
Even after planting at the proper time and temperature, it will take the bulbs 3 – 4 weeks to break dormancy and begin to grow. You can hurry this process a little by planting your bulbs indoors in a container 4 weeks before you would normally plant them outdoors.
Once the bulbs start growing and the soil in your garden has warmed, you can transplant the plants outdoors in your garden.
Pineapple lilies grow best in full sun. They will tolerate a little shade, but won’t grow as well. Soil is the most important consideration. They need very well-drained soil that is slightly acidic, pH 5.5 – 7.5. In South Africa, they grow in very rocky soil.
Water them only when the surface of the soil is dry. Feed them every 2 weeks with a fertilizer that is specially formulated for flowering plants.
How to Grow Pineapple Lilies in Containers
Pineapple lilies can be grown in containers, either by themselves or in combination with other plants. By themselves, plant your bulbs singly in a 5 – 6 inch pot or 3 – 5 bulbs in a 12 inch pot. They don’t need to be planted as deeply when grown in a container. Just below the surface is fine.
Because pineapple lilies grow in rocky soil in their native habitat, instead of regular potting soil, use a potting soil that is formulated for cactus or orchids. Water them when the surface of the soil is dry, but don’t let your container sit in water. These plants are prone to root rot if their soil is too wet. Remove the saucer from beneath the pot and then elevate it off the ground to allow water to drain freely after your have watered your plants.
Feed every 2 weeks with a fertilizer that is specially formulated for flowering plants.
How to Store Pineapple Lily Bulbs During the Winter
If you live north of zone 7, you will need to dig up your bulbs or remove them from their outdoor containers in the fall. They will not survive the winter outdoors. After the first frost when the foliage has died, use a garden fork in your garden or a small trowel in your container to carefully dig up your bulbs. Brush off the soil and bring them indoors. Let them dry out for a few weeks somewhere where it is warm and dry. Then remove the dead foliage and store the bulbs in a cool dark place that is 50°F - 60°F.
How to Divide Pineapple Lilies
Pineapple lilies reproduce both by seed and by “pups”. Pups are clones of the parent bulb that grow around the base of the parent bulb. In the spring, you can use a garden fork to dig up your bulbs and carefully break off the pups. Replant them at the same 4 – 6 inch depth at least 12 inches away from the parent bulbs. The pups will take a few years before they are large enough to support a flowering plant so you may just get foliage the following year or two.
How to Grow Pineapple Lilies From Seed
Pineapple lilies produce seeds after they finish flowering. The seed start out purple and then darken to black when they mature. You want to harvest the seed after they turn black. Store the seed over the winter indoors, somewhere cool and dark. I store my seeds in my refrigerator.
In the spring, after the last frost and the soil has warmed to 65°F, plant the seeds 4 – 6 inches deep and 12 inches apart. They will germinate in 4 – 6 weeks. It will take 3 – 4 years before the seeds have grown into bulbs that are large enough to support a flowering plant.
© 2021 Caren White
Caren White (author) on January 29, 2021:
You're welcome. Please let me know how they grow for you.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on January 28, 2021:
Great article, well explained and informative.
The Pineapple lillies look beautiful indeed. I like gardening, but haven't planted these. Would like to try your tips.
Thank you for sharing this well written article.
Caren White (author) on January 28, 2021:
The plants go dormant in the winter whether they are in a container or not. Thank you, I should add that to my article. Pineapple lilies are no more difficult to care for than things like dahlias. You plant them in the spring and dig them up in the fall and store them.
BRENDA ARLEDGE from Washington Court House on January 27, 2021:
They look intriguing.
I believe I'm in zone 5..and I would hate moving them back & forth.
Unless in a container that would make it easier.
Caren White (author) on January 27, 2021:
You are at the southern most part of their hardiness zone (10) so you could try them.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 27, 2021:
These are such unique looking flowers. I do not think they would grow well here, but I do appreciate learning about them as they are new to me.