Saturday, February 1, 2014

Pineapple lilies

Here's your word for the day, folks – "etiolated". It's the word used to describe plants which lack sunshine. It's what's wrong with my pineapple lily flowers, but I don't care, because they don't have a bad case of being etiolated at all. They've just got a mild deficiency that shows up in the strange way they flower. If they were people they'd still be still up and about, but they'd tire more easily. In bad cases, etiolated plants are bedridden hospital patients, rapidly yellowing and on death's door.

So, my pineapple lilies don't look so sick to you? Good. I didn't know they even had a problem until I looked at a photo of how healthy, sun-kissed, athletic pineapple lilies should look, and mine were, by comparison, skinny and rangy, even if they were still rather elegant, scented and pretty. I showed a gardening guru friend, Geoffrey, a photo of them a few years ago, and he replied swiftly that "Your pineapple lilies aren't getting enough sunshine, my boy." Instead of thick, dense spikes of fragrant blooms topped with a spiky green topknot that gives the plant the 'pineapple' part of its name, mine are generally scrawny. They're etiolated. They lack sunshine. They could do better. I don't care!

Of course they lack sunshine. They were planted
up against the garden shed, in the shade of the
lemon tree. They didn't stand a chance. Yet
as plants they have thrived here in their own
slightly sickly way for several years now, 
flowering as reliably can be every January.
The foliage is generally green and healthy enough.
If the flower spikes were kissed by more
sunbeams, they'd be thicker, more dense and
more fragrant. But these still have to be one
of the prettier basket cases I've come across.
There are several colours mixing it on
each bloom: white, a blush of green,
purple centres and yellow pollen blobs.
If you're wondering "what in the hell are pineapple lilies" they are bulbs from South Africa, with the botanical name of Eucomis. I still have the Yates label, and it says it's "ideal for planting under trees or in partially shaded spots" (which is what I did) but for really good flowering it needs the flower heads to be bathed in more than the few hours of summer sunshine it gets in my garden every day.

As it's under the lemon tree it thrives on the regular water and food I give the lemon, and the soil drainage is good. Over the years the two bulbs I planted have grown into quite a clump, without any care from me at all. It dies down in winter, and I do cut off the scrappy dead leaves then. The foliage doesn't get more than 40-60cm tall, and the January flower spikes are about 60cm long.

"Why don't you move it to a sunnier spot?" you may ask. They're all taken, I'm afraid. That's the problem with small gardens – you run out of space. Fortunately this is a plant which is not in its ideal spot, which doesn't flower as well as it should, and yet still satisfies and pleases me.

For gardeners in warm climates like Sydney all the traditional spring-flowering bulbs such as tulips and daffodils are at their best in their first season, and many struggle to flower again in the following year. Jonquils do better here. However, the bulbs which are doing best for me are South African bulbs such as our spring-flowering Scadoxus and our summer flowering Eucomis. They're reliable, tough and easy care, and both are slowly forming bigger clumps as the years go by. I'm glad I planted both of them.


Tigerlilje said...


Beautiful Pineapple lilies! I used to grow those indoors in containers in Norway :) Lovely to meet you and Pam yesterday - hope you are having a great weekend! ( I signed in to my old blog - I still live in the same place... )


Jamie said...

Lovely to meet you yesterday Borghild. Isn't it great to know that you can grow these indoors in Norway, outdoors in Sydney! Such versatile plants.

All About Trees said...

Those Pineapple Lillie's are beautiful! I know they are from South Africa but do you think they could grow in a place like Arizona?

Jamie said...

Yep, they're from SOuth Africa, which gets quite hot, just like Arizona. You'd have to choose your spot carefully (semi shade) and give them a steady supply of water, but they are tough plants.

Shivangni said...

Lovely flowers, first time I've heard of them, they'll probably grow well here in Delhi, will keep a look out for them as Tulips & daffodils are one year wonders here too.

Another first through your blog is the word "etiolated". Thanks

Melinda said...

Hi Jamie,
Apologies my comment is not related to your post. Have you ever encountered funnel web spiders in your garden? We've recently moved to a house with a large garden in the Southern Highlands and I am disturbed by all the funnel web holes (in some cases every 30cm apart). I'm fine with creepy crawlies and snakes but the idea of all these funnel webs is deterring me from digging around in the soil!

Jamie said...

Hi Melinda
No, I've never seen a funnel web spider here in Marrickville. They were plentiful on Sydney's north shore, where I grew up, but they don't appear to like my part of town.
Funnel webs might not be the only creatures making those holes (usually funnel web holes are in cool, moist spots like under rocks or rotting logs) so I suggest you talk to a local pest control company, who might have a better idea of who's making those holes in the ground.
Hope it all works out OK for you, Melinda.

Melinda said...

Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comment Jamie. We are getting someone out to take a look at the holes. I grew up on the Hornsby Plateau where they were plentiful but never saw their burrows. It does seem strange that they are out in the open. Hopefully they are just common trapdoor spiders.