Louis Raymond experiments in his own gardens like

a mad scientist, searching out plants that most people have

never seen before & figuring out how to make them perform.- The Boston Globe

…Louis Raymond ensures that trees can grow in Brooklyn…

or just about any other place where concrete consumes

the dirt and skyscrapers shield the sunshine.- USA Today

 
 

NEW Trips to Take!

Myrtle's easy when the conditions are right.

 
 
 
 

NEW Plants to Try!

Louis tries to capture the exact words to describe the fleeting but deep pleasures to be found in these Summer-into-Autumn incredibles.

 
 
 
 

New Gardening to Do!

Allergic to bees? You can still have an exciting garden, full of flowers and color and wildlife.

 
 
 
 

Plant Profiles

Rhode Island Red pineapple lily

eucomis-rhode-island-red-lespedeza-640

 

Immense burgundy leaves, a starry-flowered burgundy flower spike, brightly-variegated grass nuzzling over its shoulder:  Can anything be more seductive, more voluptuous?

 

The plant is just as exciting in bud, even, as below on a day of blinding sun.   

 

eucomis-rhode-island-red-in-bud-640

 

"Pineapple" lilies aren't related to true pineapples at all, despite the rosette of big leaves and the tuft of small leaves atop the thick, tall flower spike.  And they are much easier to incorporate into any sunny garden, big or small, high-maintenance or easy-as-pie.  (See "How to Handle it" below.)

 

eucomis-rhode-island-red-medium-640

 

'Rhode Island Red' is such a new cultivar that I just have this one, growing in a pot so I'm sure to keep track of it. 

 

eucomis-rhode-island-red-overall-640

 

The heavy bulbs reproduce quickly, though.  Next Spring, I'll have a few to plant out directly into the garden.

 

 

Here's how to grow this easy and "big show" bulb:

 

Latin Name

Eucomis 'Rhode Island Red'

Common Name

'Rhode Island Red' pineapple lily

Family

Asparagaceae, the Asparagus family.

What kind of plant is it?

Perennial bulb.

Hardiness

Zones 7 - 9.

Habit

A rosette of tall strap-like leaves like an amaryills from a very large bulb, with a single tall bloom spike covered in small starry flowers.

Rate of Growth

Fast.

Size in ten years

'Rhode Island Red' was hybridized only a few years ago, so its long-term size isn't yet confirmed.  In a pot or in-ground, you can expect a tight colony of rosettes of foliage to nearly three feet, with flower spikes even higher.

Texture

The huge rosettes of thick, tall, strap-like leaves establish that this is, indeed, a bulb—and a big one at that.  But thanks to the burgundy blush to the foliage, the plant's interest is as big as its size. 

Grown for

its foliage: strappy leaves emerge in Spring a deep dusky burgundy, and maintain that hue right into August, by which time the color mutes as the impressive flower-spike develops.   

 

its flowers: Dusky burgundy buds open to inch-wide starry flowers in a striking combination of "chilly" parchment and lime-green, with contrasting dots of pink and burgundy.  They crowd the top two feet of a thick fast-growing burgundy stem topped with the jaunty whorl of small leaves (also burgundy) that give pineapple lilies their name.  The flowers are as thrilling in vases are they are in the garden.

 

its vigor: 'Rhode Island Red' is a hybrid of E. pole-evansii, an all-green variety that can reach six feet in flower, and E. 'Sparkling Burgundy', "only" two to three feet tops but with sensational burgundy stems, foliage, and buds, plus excitingly-pale flowers.  'Red' has the best of both: from pole-evansii, increased size and a later bloom , and from 'Sparkling Burgundy', the glorious deep coloring. 

Flowering season

Later than usual for a Eucomis:  August into September.

Culture

Full sun, good soil, plenty of water when in growth.

How to handle it

Eucomis are unusually easy-going and high-performing.  They thrive in containers or (where hardy) in the ground.  They can grow for years without division or they can be lifted and separated into individual bulbs and replanted; they'll still bloom that same season.  Plus, like everything that looks like an amaryllis, critters leave them alone.

 

In Zone 7 and south, Eucomis can survive in beds year-round.  These are not plants for drought or poor soil: Plant in good soil, well-drained in the Winter, so that the narrower end of the heavy rutabaga-like bulbs is just an inch or two below ground.  Hardiness can be helped by planting the bulbs on their sides or even just slightly slanting downward, so that winter wet can't penetrate directly into the bulb through the "mouth" at the top.  

 

After hard frost, the thick foliage will collapse into a sloppy mess; pull it away from the bulbs and then mulch heavily for the Winter, especially the first year or two.  The bulbs can be slow to sprout in the Spring; be patient. 

 

The plants are self-reliant through the growing season. 

 

North of Zone 7, the bulbs aren't reliably hardy.  Dig them up after hard frost.  They are much easier to overwinter than dahlias or cannas, and can be stored as clumps without worry of either rotting or drying out.  In Spring, plant as full clumps or pull apart into individual bulbs first.  Smaller bulbs might not bloom that first year but the foliage is so exciting that they're a big show in the garden regardless.

 

Eucomis can also be grown in containers and left undisturbed year to year, like amaryllis.  They off-set prolifically, and bloom well when pot-bound.  (Not to worry: They also bloom well when planted-out in the garden each Spring.  What really matters is bulb size, not pot-boundedness.)  Water pot-bound clumps often to encourage big growth and profuse flowering.  Fertilize regularly as well, with any fish-emulsion mixture.  When the plants go dormant with light frost in Fall, clear away the foliage and any remaining flower stalks, and store the pot in any frost-free place for the Winter.  Unless you're gardening in a climate with really low humidity, you won't need to check if the bulbs are drying out. 

 

In the garden, the strappy burgundy foliage is such a terrific accent that the incredible flowers can almost be an afterthought.  Eucomis' vigor and ease of handling mean that they're great to tuck into bare patches amid perennials and small shrubs.  No matter what they do, and how well they do it, it will still be a plus.  (I'm contrasting, in particular, with green-leaved dahlias that never seem to get into high gear.  Boring foliage and flowers that sometimes are sparse at best?  In those circumstances the plant is barely better than a weed.)  Despite its name, 'Rhode Island Red' is actually burgundy with cream and pink accents, so is best in a pink-friendly planting.  Lighter foliage is a sensational contrast; I partner 'Rhode Island Red' with variegated grasses as well as Teucrium viscidum 'Lemon & Lime'. 

Downsides

Of course, there has to be one fly in the ointment:  The foliage usually starts to teeter and then flops outright just when the flower spikes are burgeoning their best.  There isn't an attractive or successful way to prop it back up, either—or to prevent the flop by doing some prophylactic staking and tying-in with twine.  The foliage weakens internally, at its very core, and will still crumple no matter if it's staked or tied.  From the plant's perspective, at least, this could be an advantage: with the foliage lower, the bloom spikes are even more prominent for pollinators.  The best choice is just to accept it. 

 

Containered plants seem more likely to flop than those in-ground, so you might consider cutting the flower spikes for a vase and then moving the pot itself out of sight.  But even in-ground plants flop.  Drought-stress only makes flopping more likely, and worse after it arrives.  So keep your eucomis well watered.

 

Flopping doesn't start until the flowers start to open, though, so later flowering is always a good thing.  'Rhode Island Red', then, is a distinct improvement over 'Burgundy Sparkler' just because its flowering is a few weeks later: You have that much more time to enjoy the exciting foliage and the slowly-developing flower spike at their best. 

Variants

Eucomis is a fast-growing family, with new hybrids appearing almost yearly.  They vary greatly in overall size (from foot-tall dwarfs to six-foot giants), flower coloring (petals from white to lime to pale pink to burgundy, and with contrasting petal-bases, stamens, and pistils, too), thickness or slenderness of the flower-spike overall, foliage habit (wider or narrower, more upright or more frankly wide-spreading), and foliage color (green to burgundy-blushed to full-on dark burgundy). 

 

All are great to cut, and all are "easy keepers" in-ground or in containers.  I'm finding it difficult to stop at just 'Burgundy Sparkler', 'Rhode Island Red', E. pole-evansii, and 'Peace Candles'.  Perhaps my next acquisition will be 'Wahroaneta Giant', from www.Cistus.com.

Availability

On-line.

Propagation

By pulling apart the bulb clumps in Spring.

Native habitat

Eucomis is native to South Africa; 'Rhode Island Red' was hybridized by Ed Bowen of www.OpusTopiarium.com, in Little Compton, Rhode Island.

 
 
FacebookTwitterRSS Feed

Stay in touch!

 

Sign up for twice-monthly eNews, plus notification of new posts:

 

* indicates required