© Nicki Brighton
This irresistible, remarkable Eucomis humilis is one of the miniature Eucomis species. A summer-growing bulb with wavy margined leaves and an inflorescence that resembles a pineapple.
Eucomis humilis is a deciduous bulb within the group of dwarf Eucomis species, growing up to only 400 mm. Leaves are keeled, purple tinted, wavy-edged, have purple spots below and about 400 × 70 mm. The inflorescence is a cylindrical raceme crowned with small, purple-tinted bracts, up to 80–220 mm tall on a short rotund purple-spotted flower stem. The greenish white flowers are sometimes purple-tinted with purple stamens and characterized by a rather unpleasant smell. It flowers from December to February after which it produces capsular fruits.
© Nicki Brighton
Eucomis humilis is currently not threatened and is Red-Listed as Least Concern.
Distribution and habitat
Eucomis humilis is endemic to KwaZulu-Natal, growing from the northern to southern Drakensberg alpine regions. It has only been recorded from summer rainfall areas, in habitats such as rocky stream gullies, wet rock overhangs and in grasslands below cliffs at altitudes between 2 220 m and 2 900 m. It can survive frost in the southern hemisphere and if grown in mild parts of the northern hemisphere.
Derivation of name and historical aspects
The name Eucomis is derived from the Greek word Euckomos, meaning beautiful hair or topknot. The word humilis means low, hence this is a dwarf plant. Eucomis is a very small genus consisting of about 10 species that occurs naturally in South Africa and about four species occur in the Drakensburg region. Eucomis species are commonly known as the pineapple flowers in reference to their inflorescences that look like pineapples. A similar species to E. humilis is E. montana, which grows in groups, up to 300 mm high, with erect, oval-shaped leaves without wavy margins, with green flowers and brown stamens and ovaries.
The unpleasant smell lures flies to pollinate the flowers. Carrion flies probably pollinate it, although this has not yet been confirmed by actual sightings.
Most Eucomis bulbs that occur in cold regions shed their above-ground parts in late autumn and remain dormant throughout winter to survive cold conditions. The seeds are then dispersed by wind once the capsules have dried and opened.
Uses and cultural aspects
Eucomis species are commonly known for their medicinal properties and are therefore used in traditional medicinal treatments for their anti-inflammatory properties.
When planted in masses they add a different look to the garden. It can also be used as a border plant.
© Nicki Brighton
Growing Eucomis humilis
Eucomis humilis can be used in semi-shade or full sun areas, as pocket plants in rockeries, and in herbaceous borders. For mass plantings they should be allowed time to become fully established.
Although it can survive in poor soils, it performs very well in rich, well-drained soils. For container cultivations, bulbs grow well in 250 mm pots.
Eucomis humilis can be propagated from seeds, offsets and leaf cuttings:
- Sow seeds in spring in a well-drained soil mixture. Seeds should germinate in about 4–6 weeks.
- Offsets can be removed from the mother plant during the dormant winter season, but they will develop slowly.
- Leaf cuttings can be taken during the active growing season and planted in a well-drained soil mixture.
© Brian Whyer
Bulbs should be planted near the surface, with their necks protruding above ground level. Young bulbs can be planted out in the garden during their third season. Compost can be applied every spring not forgetting to keep the soil as well-drained as possible. Although dormant in winter, irrigation is advisable. Eucomis species are rarely bothered by pest or diseases.
References and further reading
- Borchers, H. 1996. Greening the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands . National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Du Plessis, N., & Duncan, G. 1989. Bulbous Plants of Southern Africa, A guide to their Cultivation and Propagation . Tafelberg, Cape Town.
- Leistner, O.A. (ed.). 2000. Seeds plants of Southern Africa: families and genera. Strelitzia 10. National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.
- Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain Flowers. A guide to the flora of Drakensberg and Lesotho . The Flora Publications Trust, Durban.
- Powrie, F. 1998. Kirstenbosch gardening series. Grow South African plants . National Botanical Institute, Kirstenbosch.
KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Garden
Thanks to Nicki Brighton of Dargle Conservancy and Midlands Conservancy and Brian Whyer of Pacific Bulb Society for images.