One of the more unusual bulbs in my garden is the South African "Pineapple Lily" or eucomis comosa. The leaves emerge from the ground in late spring with form that rivals the flower spike itself, quickly growing into a crinum like rosette of strappy leaves. The flower spike is said to smell like rotting meat to be pollinated by flies, but to the contrary, its usually odorless and occasionally it even smells rather nice.
These flowers were from last year, when it was planted in wet soil and a little more shade.
The inflorescence consists of rubbery flowers, perfect and long lasting for use in arrangements and bouquets. If you leave the flowers alone you'll probably encounter the purple berry like fruits that make for an attractive show in their own right! After blooming, the leaves will start to slowly flop over and retreat into dormancy leaving the flower spike to develop its seeds.
Mr. Brown Thumb has a great guide to collecting the seeds of pineapple lily, and even a guide to propagating by leaf cuttings!
It prefers a moist soil, but I can personally attest to its tolerance of both overly wet soil and drier soil as well. However, it performed exceptionally well in the soggy soil of my backyard the last two years, back when the rear of the garden was flooded. The foliage was much lusher and lengthier, and you can probably tell by the above photo that the flowers were much larger as well. They were so big that they really rambled over the ground like snakes rather than stand up like they do normally.
It seems to do well in part shade and in full sun, but the plant behaves differently in each situation, much like many other rosette forming plants. In shade the foliage is longer and lusher, and the flower stalks are more lax and floppy. In sun, the rosette is more compact, and the inflorescence is shorter and less likely to require staking. This might be a preferable situation for most, though I really did like my flower arrangement last year with its warped and spiraling stems evocative of a Dr. Suess concoction.
Now my pineapple lily is planted in a very dry and sunny spot, and the sun and lack of rain this year has stunted it a bit. Normally I get three to five blooms, but now I only have one... and a half. The second inflorescence seems to have been stunted early in its development.
Hardiness and StorageI've seen many reports of this doing well in the ground through zone 7, and I even left half of the bulb itself exposed to 20 degrees of freezing this winter when I left it only half buried. Even if you live where the ground freezes, this is a really easy bulb to store over winter in a dry medium like sawdust or sand.
Mr. Brown Thumb also tells us that its perfectly acceptable to leave it in a pot with dry soil, but reminds us to remove the leaves as the smell of them rotting is "something horrible". (Check out his informative blog! Its based in Chicago, but that doesn't stop him from growing tender exotics and giving us excellent tips.)
Landscape UsesBecause they're dormant for about half of the year, I recommend planting them alongside bulbs that are known to bloom in the dormant season. In warm climates like Florida, hurricane lilies and surprise lilies could pick up where eucomis left off in fall, and winter annuals like "Johnny jump up" and pansies could continue the show. You can even plant among dramatic purple heart or "Red Star" cordyline
In colder climates you can plant them in a bulb garden, planting eucomis alongside daffodils, crocus and so forth.
Be sure you don't overlook the purple leaved eucomis comosa "sparkling burgundy" either, which looks excellent among chartreuse sweet potato vine and any silver or light colored foliage.
For any garden, Pineapple Lily makes for an interesting conversation piece whether in the ground or in a vase.