Pineapple Lily

Scientific Name
Eucomis autumnalis (Mill.) Chitt.
Higher Classification
Common Names
Pineapple Lily (e)
National Status
Status and Criteria
Least Concern
Assessment Date
V.L. Williams, D. Raimondo, N.R. Crouch, A.B. Cunningham, C.R. Scott-Shaw, M. Lötter & A.M. Ngwenya
Has experienced large population declines and is a very popular medicinal plant. Because of its very widespread distribution, however, it wasn't felt that the decline was sufficient to qualify as NT. This should be re-assessed in the future, especially given its popularity in the market place, the large numbers harvested, and the decrease in the average bulb size sold in the markets.
Not endemic to South Africa
Provincial distribution
Eastern Cape, Free State, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West
South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Malawi.
Habitat and Ecology
Major system
Major habitats
Damp, open grassland and sheltered places from the coast to 2450 m.
Eucomis autumnalis ssp. is a highly sought after taxa that that has been critically exploited over much of its range. The market traders don't and can't distinguish between the bulbs of the different subspecies; hence, the vulnerability of the subspecies due to harvesting for the medicinal plant trade are assessed together. It is also not possible to identify the plants in the market, and plants have to be grown out in a greenhouse before they can be identified. Given their distributions, it is very likely that ssp. clavata is the most exploited of the varieties (especially for the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal markets), whereas ssp. autumnalis is probably the more prevalent variety in the Eastern Cape. Cunningham (1988) recorded Eucomis autumnalis ssp. (probably clavata) as the second most prevalent species in the KwaZulu-Natal muthi markets (following Merwilla plumbea); the number of bags (50kg-size) estimated to be sold annually by 54 herb-traders was 581+, and the species was classed as 'declining' - i.e. a species that was recently widespread but was likely to become vulnerable and continue to decline if destruction of the wild populations continued. The herb-traders and herbalists in the region consistently nominated the species in the top six plants they considered to be scarce. Furthermore, Cunningham (1988) estimated there were about 324 bulbs per bag - hence the number of bulbs potentially traded annually was >188 000. Williams et al. (2007a) list it as occurring in 78% of muthi shops in the Witwatersrand in 1994, and further estimated that about 1696 bags of bulbs were bought annually by the muthi shops in the region. Like KwaZulu-Natal, it was the second most prevalent species in the shops (after Drimia spp.), it was regarded by the most popular by the traders, and it was nominated by 36% of them as becoming scarce (ranked second after Siphonochilus aethiopicus) (Williams et al. 2000). Another study by Williams et al. (2007b) showed that the mean size of the bulbs decreased significantly between 1995 and 2001 - this was believed to be an indication of over-exploitation. The number of bulbs sold in the muthi shops in 1994 was also estimated to be >233 000 (Williams et al. 2007b). In the Faraday muthi market in Johannesburg in 2001, 21% of traders sold the species and 121 bags were estimated to be bought annually between all the traders in the market (Williams 2003). The species was considered to be scarce. Mander (1988) estimated that there had been a 100% increase in the travelling time to get to E. autumnalis harvesting localities; this increase represented an extra four hours or more, and gatherers were having to travel greater distances to more remote locations. It was also noted that the bulbs were getting smaller and they were frequently unavailable in the markets. Mander's estimates for the number of bulbs used annually was 428 000. The species has clearly experienced some large declines in population numbers and is a very popular medicinal plant. The participants of the Medicinal Plant Red List Workshop (14-15/01/2008, SANBI, Durban) felt, however, that because of its very widespread distribution, the decline wasn't enough to assess the species as NT. This may have to be re-assessed in the future, especially since E. autumnalis ssp. clavata is classed as VU in KwaZulu-Natal (Scott-Shaw 1999).
Population trend
Assessment History
Taxon assessed
Status and Criteria
Citation/Red List version
Eucomis autumnalis (Mill.) Chitt.Declining Raimondo et al. (2009)
Eucomis autumnalis (Mill.) Chitt. subsp. clavata (Baker) ReynekeVU Scott-Shaw (1999)
Eucomis autumnalis (Mill.) Chitt. subsp. clavata (Baker) ReynekeInsufficiently Known Hilton-Taylor (1996)

Cunningham, A.B. 1988. An investigation of the herbal medicine trade in Natal/KwaZulu. Investigational Report No. 29. Institute of Natural Resources, Pietermaritzburg.

Goldblatt, P. and Manning, J.C. 2000. Cape Plants: A conspectus of the Cape Flora of South Africa. Strelitzia 9. National Botanical Institute, Cape Town.

Hilton-Taylor, C. 1996. Red data list of southern African plants. Strelitzia 4. South African National Botanical Institute, Pretoria.

Mander, M. 1998. Marketing of indigenous medicinal plants in South Africa: a case study in KwaZulu-Natal. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Rome.

Pooley, E. 1998. A field guide to wild flowers of KwaZulu-Natal and the eastern region. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Pooley, E. 2003. Mountain flowers: a field guide to the flora of the Drakensberg and Lesotho. Natal Flora Publications Trust, Durban.

Raimondo, D., von Staden, L., Foden, W., Victor, J.E., Helme, N.A., Turner, R.C., Kamundi, D.A. and Manyama, P.A. 2009. Red List of South African Plants. Strelitzia 25. South African National Biodiversity Institute, Pretoria.

Reyneke, W.F. 1972. 'n Monografiese studie van die genus Eucomis L'Herit. in Suid-Afrika. Unpublished M.Sc., University of Pretoria, Pretoria.

Reyneke, W.F. 1980. Three subspecies of Eucomis autumnalis. Bothalia 13(1 & 2):140-142.

Scott-Shaw, C.R. 1999. Rare and threatened plants of KwaZulu-Natal and neighbouring regions. KwaZulu-Natal Nature Conservation Service, Pietermaritzburg.

Williams, V.L. 2003. Hawkers of health: an investigation of the Faraday Street traditional medicine market in Johannesburg. Report to Gauteng Directorate for Nature Conservation, DACEL.

Williams, V.L. 2007. The design of a risk assessment model to determine the impact of the herbal medicine trade on the Witwatersrand on resources of indigenous plant species. Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

Williams, V.L., Balkwill, K. and Witkowski, E.T.F. 2000. Unravelling the commercial market for medicinal plants and plant parts on the Witwatersrand, South Africa. Economic Botany 54(3):310-327.

Williams, V.L., Balkwill, K. and Witkowski, E.T.F. 2007. Size-class prevalence of bulbous and perennial herbs sold in the Johannesburg medicinal plant markets between 1995 and 2001. South African Journal of Botany 73(1):144-155.

Williams, V.L., Witkowski, T.F. and Balkwill, K. 2007. Volume and financial value of species traded in the medicinal plant markets of Gauteng, South Africa. International Journal of Sustainable Development & World Ecology 14(6):584-603.

Williams, V.L., Raimondo, D., Crouch, N.R., Cunningham, A.B., Scott-Shaw, C.R., Lötter, M. & Ngwenya, A.M. 2016. Eucomis autumnalis (Mill.) Chitt. National Assessment: Red List of South African Plants version 2020.1. Accessed on 2020/07/09

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Distribution map

© H. Mtshali

© J. Stephenson

© M. Lötter

© C. Paterson-Jones

© L. von Staden

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