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Africa Geographic
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Klaserie Sands River Camp

Written by: Catherine Browne

The pineapple flower – Eucomis autimnalis can currently be seen flowering in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens. This is a beautiful and unusual plant.

The Botanical Society of South Africa and SANBI Kirstenbosch share some interesting facts about this beauty to encourage appreciation and care for indigenous biodiversity:

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– The pineapple flower is a deciduous, summer-growing bulb from Southern Africa, which receives summer rainfall. In the wild it is found growing on mountain slopes, in open grassland, in marshes and on forest margins in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, Lesotho, Free State, Mpumalanga, Swaziland, Limpopo, Gauteng, North West, Northern Cape, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

– It has earned its common name due to its appearance which resembles a pineapple. However, it is not closely related to the pineapple nor edible – in fact it’s poisonous if eaten.

close-up-pineapple-flower

– The botanical name of the pineapple is Ananas comosus. It belongs to the Bromeliad family and comes from South America, while this Southern African plant on the other hand belongs to the Hyacinth family.

– The pineapple flower is a highly sought after medicinal plant that is widely used in traditional medicine to treat backache, urinary diseases, stomach ache, fever, colic, flatulence, hangovers, respiratory disease, and venereal disease, as well as to facilitate childbirth and heal fractures. Warning: do not use it for any of these purposes, nor ingest the plant if not fully trained to harness its properties correctly.

– Since this bulb is in such demand, the species is over-harvested in the wild, with the result that the number of wild plants is declining and the size of the bulbs being sold is decreasing. Although this species is widespread in Southern Africa, if harvesting continues at this rate, it will become rare and could become extinct in the wild.

growing-pineapple-flowers

– The pineapple flower is fragrant and produces a large amount of nectar. Yet if you watch the activity around a plant for a while, you’ll notice that not many bees and insects or birds visit to feed on it. This is due to its dull, greenish coloration and fragrance adapted to attract spider-hunting pompilid wasps. In their natural habitat they are visited and pollinated by these wasps.

– It takes four to five seasons to flower from seed but will make a rewarding garden plant, which needs a sunny spot in fertile, well-drained soil with lots of water during spring and summer. It is suited to a rockery or large container, and it is frost hardy but needs protection in very cold climates. It is also best kept as dry as possible in the dormant winter period.

pineapple-flowers

We are truly lucky to have the magnificent biodiversity that we do in our country. To learn about, enjoy and conserve this biodiversity please consider becoming a member of the Botanical Society of South Africa  and/or supporting them by making the Botanical Society your chosen beneficiary on your MySchoolMyVillageMyPlanet card. Alternatively you could even make a donation in support of their work.

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