Eucomis for Specialty Cut Flower Production

Eucomis, commonly known as “pineapple lily”, is an easy-to-produce perennial, native to South Africa. The flower spikes are a dense column of waxy, star-shaped flowers with a tuft of leaf-like bracts on top, from which the common name is derived. From a true bulb come the long, strap-like leaves, which form a rosette around the inflorescence, adding to its exotic tropical look. Flower, seed pod, stem, and leaf colors vary from white to green, pink, purple, or burgundy. Sometimes leaves and stems have spots of a darker color. The Eucomis genus has about 15 species including E. comosaE. bicolorE. autumnalis, and E. pole-evansii.

Currently, we have 13+ cultivars in field trials at North Carolina State University (NCSU) for cut flower evaluation. Over the last 5 years we have learned a lot about growing Eucomis and the great potential it has to be a successful cut flower. Growers have reported that they sell very well to florists and at farmers’ markets, getting roughly $2.50 and $5.00 per stem, respectively. Of course, consumer acceptance and product price will vary depending on your market, but this offers a good place to start.

Cultivars

It is important to choose the correct species and cultivars appropriate for cut flower production. We do not recommend dwarf varieties or E. bicolor for use as cut flowers. Dwarf varieties are often too short for cuts. E. bicolor has a slightly disagreeable odor and we found it not to overwinter at NCSU (zone 7b). Stem length varies with cultivar and age of the bulb, generally ranging from 1 to 4 feet. Taller-stemmed varieties will fall over, especially if not kept well hydrated or supported, thus netting might be useful, but not necessary. A few great cultivars we do recommend for cut flower production include ‘Sparkling Burgundy’, ‘Can Can’, ‘Reuben’, ‘Oakhurst’, ‘Tugela Jade’, ‘Tugela Ruby’, ‘Tugela Gem’, ‘Tugela Jewel’, and ‘Megaru’. The beautiful burgundy foliage of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ can also be harvested. Breeders are working with Eucomis, so many new and exciting cultivars are appearing on the market for cut flowers (and potted plants, too!).

Planting Location and Propagation

Eucomis does well field grown, under high tunnels, or in standard lily crates in the greenhouse. Planting bulbs in the greenhouse to be forced in January will give May/June flowering with night temperatures around 60F. For field production, spring planting is best where bulbs planted in May will flower in July (approximately two months). Bulbs can also be planted in the fall for flowering the following summer. 
Bulbs should be planted 1 to 2 inches below the substrate surface, slightly deeper if in zone 6 or less. Bulbs in the ground will overwinter to zone 6, likely zone 5 with extra mulching. Bulbs should be spaced approximately 6 inches apart. If field space is available long term, six-inch or greater spacing will give the bulbs more room to expand as the plants are quite long lived. We’ve had plantings at NCSU over 5 years old which are still very productive. It is not known how higher planting densities will affect flowering long term, but occasional dividing would be beneficial to reduce crowding from bulblets and increasing bulb size. 

For greenhouse production, up to 12 bulbs can be planted per lily crate depending on bulb size.  To overwinter in crates, remove foliage once it has naturally senesced (or early winter) and store bulbs dry at 40 to 55F. Do not cold store bulbs for too long (more than 6 months) as this can distort the flowers.

Eucomis is easily propagated from leaf cuttings and seed. Plants from seed will have a great amount of variability. Plants propagated by these methods usually take 3-5 years to flower. Eucomis can also be started from plugs, which are available commercially. Bulbs can be divided periodically in the fall or spring and offsets replanted. 
Older/larger bulbs will pro-duce larger inflorescences. Over time inflorescence size can get unmanageable for some uses, and bulbs left in the field should be divided at this point. One 18cm+ bulb will give one flower in a season; as the bulb develops bulblets and forms a cluster, multiple flowers will be produced. Bulbs can be planted successionally (e.g. every 3 weeks) so flowering can occur over a longer period of time.

Water and Fertilizer

Substrate should be kept evenly moist.  Good drainage is necessary because like most bulb crops, Eucomis is more susceptible to rots if habitually overwatered. Light to moderate ferti-lization (100-150 ppm N) is best from shoot emergence to flowering. Over-fertilized plants will typically show some leaf tip burn. Clear water leaches should be done to reduce salt buildup if grown in crates. Typical peat-based substrate blends work fine.

Light and Temperature

Eucomis should be grown in full sun, which makes leaf and stem color more vibrant, but can tolerate partial shade.  For example, in full sun ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ will have a dark burgundy foliage, while those in partial shade will be greener. Shorter-stemmed cultivars may be stretched slightly if grown under partial shade. Leaf coloration of ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ and all bronze-leafed cultivars will also change from burgundy to green as the inflorescence develops. Flowering may also be enhanced by high light levels.  The warmer the temperature the faster Eucomis will flower. It can tolerate high temperatures if kept well hydrated. We get up in the 90s and occasionally hit 100 and our plants were fine. Foliage will persist until frost. Plants do not appear to be photoperiodic, but bulbs do have a vernalization requirement that is still being determined.

Pests and Diseases

There are no major pests or diseases that commonly affect Eucomis, but watch out for water molds, cut worms, leaf miners, mealybugs, and botrytis. Thankfully, deer do not like Eucomis. Be sure to inspect bulbs upon arrival for signs of soft rots.

Harvest Stage

Stems should be harvested when no less than 75-100% of the florets have opened to maximize vase life. Harvesting at this time also reduces the chance that the stems will become weak and flop over postharvest. The colors of the florets, stem, and seed pods change over time so it is understandable that you may want to harvest at different times to get different looks; however be aware that early harvests increase the likelihood of weak stems, shorter vase life, and not all florets will continue to open. As the flowers age they become greener and colored seed pods form, which are also attractive and attribute to the long vase life.

Foliage of the burgundy-leaved cultivars can be harvested and will last even longer than the flowers. Foliage grown outdoors in full sun and harvested before flowering will have the darkest color; leaves will be more green than burgundy under lower light levels.

Harvest

Stems are easy to harvest, no clippers required, just grab as close to the base of the stem as possible and give it a firm twist and pull. As long as the plants are properly hydrated the stem should detach easily from the bulb. This harvesting method prevents the leftover stem “nub” from rotting away on the plant attracting fungus, disease, etc. Stem ends should be recut after harvest by this method to facilitate maximum water uptake.

Postharvest Handling

Harvested stems perform best held in tap water and have the potential to last 30-60 days, depending on the cultivar. Properly hydrate stems upright in a bucket of tap water in a cool place. Eucomis does not benefit from the use of hydrating or holding solutions, including bulb specific preservatives. If stems are in a mixed arrangement with flowers that need floral preservative, the vase life could be reduced by approximately a week; however, Eucomis will probably still outlast anything else in the vase! Harvested leaves are as easy to handle as the flowers, with floral preservatives not needed. Eucomis is not sensitive to ethylene when exposed to 1 ppm for 20 hours. 

While cold storage for more than one week can decrease vase life, cut stems can still have a vase life of 20 days when stored either wet in buckets or dry in floral boxes for up to 3 weeks. This makes Eucomis a good candidate for long-distance shipping or storing stems to prolong availability. Stems stored for more than a week at temperatures below 40F may show signs of cold damage so treat them like tropicals. When removed from dry storage be sure to re-cut and allow to properly rehydrate upright before using. 

Eucomis does not perform well in standard floral foams due to possible hydration issues that cause the stem to lose turgidity. If need be, a long wooden pick or skewer could be inserted into the fleshy stem to provide support for event work. Stems harvested at the proper stage will perform better in foam due to increased stem strength.

Photo 1: Eucomis ‘Ruby’ seed pod.
Photo 2: Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ foliage before flowers develop.
Photo 3: Eucomis ‘Sparkling Burgundy’ at NCSU.
Photo 4: Eucomis ‘Tugeta Ruby’ at NCSU.

Acknowledgements

We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Hill Foundation, the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers Association Research Foundation, the Gloeckner Foundation, and the American Floral Endowment, and support from floriculture research technicians Ingram McCall and Diane Mays. We also want to thank DeGoede Bulb Farm, Golden State Bulb Growers, and Plant Delights for providing bulbs.

Sources for Eucomis

DeGoede Bulb Farm,    [email protected]
Bill Moore and Company, Inc,  www.billmooreco.com
ADR Bulbs, Inc,   www.adrbulbs.com
Golden State Bulb Growers,  www.goldenstatebulb.com

Alicain Carlson and John Dole