Flowering in our mini-grassland this summer are the crimson Inanda Lily and the more understated, though intriguing plant known as the Pineapple Lily.
The Inanda Lily occurs naturally from South Sudan to Tanzania in eastern Africa, and in southern Africa it is known as the Inanda Lily in KwaZulu-Natal (as it is associatied with the Inanda Valley), and in the Eastern Cape as the Kei Lily. Its botanical name is Cyrtanthus sanguineus – with sanguineus meaning blood red.
In the wild it grows in crevices and on ledges on rock faces, usually near water and mostly but not exclusively along the coastal belt. One of the best ways to see it in the wild is by abseiling down cliffs! Because it mostly occurs in fairly inaccessible places it is not threatened in the wild.
We do not have any cliff faces in our garden. The plants now established here came from a small number of bulbs from a friend’s potted specimens.
The narrow strappy leaves of the Inanda Lily are not conspicuous, but it makes up for it with its very showy flowers in the summer. It is member of the Amaryllidaceae family.
This season we found – only when it flowered – that a plant had seeded itself in our mini-grassland. It must have dispersed from the distant clump elsewhere in the garden. This lily has been grown in cultivation since 1846 and is fairly easy to propagate from seed. New plants can flower from their third year onwards. It can also be propagated by bulb offsets, but parent plants should not be disturbed too often. It does well in shallow pots and does not mind being root bound. It should not be kept too wet else its bulbs may rot.
In addition to its pleasing appearance, the Inanda Lily is used in traditional medicine. Infusions can be taken regularly by pregnant women to ensure easy childbirth.
The Pineapple Lily also has medicinal uses. Bulbs are harvested in the wild for the medicinal plant trade. It is so popular that the population in the wild is becoming increasingly scarce.
A Pineapple Lily in our garden, with the flowers still in bud. The inflorescence is topped by a crown of bracts so that the plant resembles a pineapple. The botanical name is Eucomis autumnalis. The name derives from the Greek eukomes, which means “beautifully haired”.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) notes on its website, see here, that the Eucomis autumnalis (and some subspecies), has been classed as ‘declining’ – that is “a species that was recently widespread but was likely to become vulnerable and continue to decline if destruction of the wild populations continued”. Increasingly, harvesters working for the medicinal trade have to travel to more remote areas to find this plant, and bulbs are not always available for sale, and those that are available are generally smaller – another indication of scarcity.
The Pineapple Lily is a member of the Hyacinthaceae family. The flowers of the Eucomis autumnalis are pollinated by a species of wasp. Other species of Eucomis are pollinated by flies.
The Royal Botanical Gardens Kew website, see here, notes that Eucomis autumnalis is toxic if ingested, and reports that scientific research has shown Eucomis species bulb and root extracts to have anti-inflammatory properties. According to People’s Plants, decoctions of the bulb of Eucomis autumnalis are used as enemas for backache, to assist in post-operative recovery, and to help in healing fractures. It is also used as an emetic in the treatment of fever, hangover and syphilis. Pooley relates that it is also used to treat urinary and pulmonary ailments, fever and diseases of stock.
Pineapple Lily flowers starting to go to seed.
It can be grown from seed, but it will take a few seasons until new plants flower. Offsets may also be divided from the parent plant in autumn. The plant grows in grasslands in the wild but is absent in drier regions. It is found in most southern African countries and in Zimbabwe and Malawi. It is a popular garden plant and it is available from nurseries. In fact several species of Pineapple Lily are popular internationally and new varieties are now cultivated worldwide. It was almost three centuries ago that the first Eucomis was cultivated in Britain.
Posted by Carol
Sources: Elsa Pooley. 1998. A Field Guide to Wild Flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Region. Durban: Natal Flora Publications Trust; Ben-Erik van Wyk and Nigel Gericke. 2007. People’s Plants: A Guide to Useful Plants of Southern Africa. Pretoria: Briza; South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) http://redlist.sanbi.org/species.php?species=3790-4001; Royal Botanical Gardens Kew http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/eucomis-bicolor-pineapple-lily.
February 4, 2017 at 2:52 pm
Beautiful flowers and a fascinating account of them. There’s a degree of irony in the fact that so many plants are struggling to maintain a foothold in the wild due to them being taken by people for whatever reason, but that they now flourish and multiply in gardens as a result of specimens being taken by early plant hunters. Should they be replenished in the wild from cultivated stock or are they now genetically altered?
February 5, 2017 at 6:02 am
Thanks Theresa. You make an interesting observation and raise a good question. It seems that the more popular with gardeners a plant family or species becomes, the more likely it is that we produce new and “improved” varieties! I guess such practices increase the risk of compromising the (previously) wild forms.
January 16, 2017 at 4:13 pm
These are such stately, elegant flowers it’s hard to picture them out in the wild. A bit like imagining the Queen roughing it on a hike.
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January 17, 2017 at 5:33 am
Conjures a great mental picture. Now when close to these flowers curtsying will spring to mind 🙂
January 16, 2017 at 5:32 am
I remember encountering the Pineapple Lily the first time I hiked in the Drakensberg as a student.
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January 16, 2017 at 5:41 am
So lovely to encounter them in the wild.
January 15, 2017 at 8:48 pm
What fabulous plants, and fabulous photos. I could feel my inner gardener jumping up and down with excitement 🙂
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January 16, 2017 at 5:39 am
Thanks Tish. These plants do have a special vibrancy.