Plants I love

Grow a pineapple

The rough end of the pineapple is Aussie slang for a raw deal, but for gardeners the rough end of the pineapple is a bonus as it promises more pineapples.

Pineapples are members of the extended bromeliad clan, and the fruit forms atop a red and purple flower spike. To grow them you only need to cut the top off, remove as much flesh as you can, strip the lower leaves, let the cutting harden off for a few days, then plant into a pot filled with potting mix. Keep the soil moist until the cutting is well established and a couple of handspans tall, then move it on to garden bed or large pot.

Pineapple plant

Pineapple growing in the pineapple patch at Vaucluse House, Sydney

 

This ease of propagation is the reason that hybrid pineapples, bred for extra sweetness and low acid, are sold with their tops cut off. They are grown under license and removing their tops before distribution prevents unauthorised growing.

Europeans came across the pineapple in the Americas in the mid-17th century and it instantly became a prize. Charles II had himself painted receiving one as a gift, and they became fashionable as exotic motifs for furniture and fabrics. The most lavish example of this trend is the silver-coated oak table commissioned by William III for Kensington Palace in 1698. The table features a full-sized silver pineapple as a decorative feature. Dutch-born William was making a spiky insult to Louis XIV, reminding him that the Dutch beat the French in the race to fruit a pineapple in Europe.

Silver table by Andrew Moore, 1698-9 (Royal Collection Trust)

This is the completely over-the-top table, made by Andrew Moore, 1698-9 (Photo from Royal Collection Trust). If you love pineapple as decorative motif, book lunch or dinner at Ananas Brasserie in the Rocks. Food’s good too.

By the 19th century pineapples were something of a fixture in the temperate world. They had their own spot in the Sydney Botanic Gardens as early as 1828, but now Sydneysiders take them for granted, and rarely grow them.

One pineapple is something of an oddity but a mass can look great. Like other bromeliads, pineapples want good drainage, and don’t care about root competition, so you can plant them where other plants are hard to grow, on the sunny north side of trees, for instance. They are carefree plants, and require only a bit of water when the weather is very dry. Feed with an organic fertiliser sprinkled around the roots once in spring, summer and autumn.

Be patient. It will take two years before the flower spike appears, and then another four to six months for the fruit to slowly develop. When the side of the fruit facing the sun is fully yellow (the shaded side might stay green) use a sharp knife to cut it from the stalk. And as you celebrate that sweet golden flesh, the appropriate Aussie exclamation, given the pineapple’s royal history, is one of my dad’s favourites: ‘I wouldn’t call the king my uncle!’

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