Most people think of the colorful houseplants with strappy leaves and unusual flowers when they imagine bromeliads. But the plants that we cultivate to grow pineapples are also in the Bromeliaceae family, and you can grow them indoors. And, yes, they will even produce fruit.
For a time in Europe during the 18th century, people would rent pineapple plants and fruits to show off at dinner parties. They were a sign of wealth and taste, and a single fruit could run you nearly $8,000 in modern prices.
Lucky for you, they’re far more affordable these days. Plus, the make an interesting houseplant that will still be a stunning conversation piece.
- Genus: Ananas
- Species: comosus
- Native To: South America
- Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
- Soil Preference: Well-draining, supportive loam
- Soil pH: 4.5-6.0
- Growing Zones: 11-12
Caring for Pineapple Bromeliads:
These plants grow nearly five feet tall in ideal conditions, but they’ll stay smaller indoors. The plant’s shouldn’t be exposed to temperatures below 60°F, though they don’t mind warmer conditions. Anything briefly up to 100°F is fine. This isn’t a plant for colder climates, and if you take it outside during the summer, bring it back in the moment temperatures drop into the 50s.
Although they will grow in a wide range of humidity, they do best in environments with relative humidity above 50%. If you don’t have that naturally, you can cluster plants together or use a humidifier.
To form the pineapple, the plant develops hundreds of flowers that fuse together. The resulting fruit has scale-like skin with spines along the exterior. It somewhat resembles a pinecone, which is where it got its name.
Be aware that immature pineapples are toxic if eaten. Unless you can be certain that the fruit is mature, don’t eat it.
Pineapple bromeliads, whether one of the more ornamental or edible types, need full sun. If you can’t provide them with full exposure inside your home, consider taking them outside during the warmer weather and bringing them indoors during the winter. These plants can grow outdoors once the temperatures are consistently above 60°F.
If you move your plant outdoors, harden them off for a week so they won’t be harmed by the harsher growing conditions of the outdoors.
If you are growing indoors but you don’t have full sun exposure, provide them with an overhead grow light to supplement any natural light.
If you can provide 6-8 hours of direct light, then they will grow well indoors.
Most bromeliads are epiphytes, which grow attached to other plants. That means they need light soil. But pineapples need something that is dense enough to support the top-heavy growth while still providing excellent drainage and aeration.
A potting mix labeled as water-retentive but light is ideal. A media labeled for tropical plants will usually be perfect.
If you can’t find this, choose a standard potting medium and work in some perlite or rice hulls. You want the medium to ultimately be about 10% perlite or hulls.
It’s tempting to overwater these plants, but you should only provide moisture when the soil has dried out completely. Stick your finger into the potting medium. If it feels at all moist, don’t water. When you do add water, it should feel like a well wrung-out sponge.
Too little water is preferable to too much water, though underwatering can result in slower growth.
Drain any catchment container after about 30 minutes.
Use distilled or rainwater, if possible. Otherwise, filter your municipal water or leave it out for 24 hours to allow some of the chemical treatments and minerals to evaporate or settle. Hard water will cause stunted growth and brown leaves.
Feed the plants with a water-soluable 10-10-10 fertilizer in the spring and again in the fall. You can either spray the leaves or water the soil.
The most important consideration when choosing a container is drainage. These plants are extremely sensitive to standing water and a pot that doesn’t drain well will quickly kill your plant.
Avoid using a container that is too large, because this also contributes to overwatering and root rot.
Choose something that is about a third of the ultimate size of the plant. The other consideration is to find something that is heavy enough to support the plant. Concrete, stone, wood, or clay are usually substantial enough, but metal or terra cotta is usually too light.
You may need to provide a stake to support the plant. If you find that it’s tilting or leaning, find something that can support it.
There are multiple varieties of pineapples within the comosus species. These are: var. bracteatus, var. comosus, var. erectifolius var. microstatchys, and var. parguazensis.
There are also many cultivars, including ‘Champaca,’ which stays compact and grows extremely well indoors or in warmer climates.
‘Hilo,’ which has sweet, pale yellow flesh and cylindrical fruit. The leaves are spineless.
‘Kona Sugarloaf’ has white, extremely sweet flesh and lacks the woody center of some cultivars.
‘Natal Queen’ has golden flesh with a balance between sweet and acid. It’s mild and crispy.
‘Variegatus’ is typically grown as a houseplant since it tolerates the indoor growing environment well. It prooduces a fruit, but it isn’t as flavorful as some other cultivars. The foliage, however, is striking, with white and green stripes.
Harvest and Propagation
All bromeliads bloom and fruit once and die, and pineapples are no exception. Once you harvest your pineapple, the plant will end its lifecycle. That doesn’t mean a pineapple bromeliad should be tossed after you enjoy your first fruit, however.
As the plant forms the fruit, it will send out pups or offsets. These can be cut away from the main plant and set into their own container filled with potting medium. Wait until they’re about a foot tall before cutting them away.
The second method is to use the fruit itself. Gently grasp the pineapple at the base of the upper leaves and twist off the top. You might want to wear gloves while doing this, since the leaves are stiff and sharp.
Peel the outer leaves away from the rest. This will expose the young roots. Be sure to cut away any leftover flesh, as this will contribute to root rot. Allow the crown to dry for a week.
Plant the top in potting soil as described above. Care for the plant as usual. You might need to provide a stake to support the young plant. Within a year or two, you’ll have another pineapple.
Fruits take up to three years to form and mature, so be patient. First, the plant will develop a red bud in the center that will expand into a cone. After a few months, blue flowers will form and quickly die within a few days. At this point, the fruit will swell and ripen over a few months.
To harvest your pineapple, gently cut it away at the base from the rest of the plant. The parent plant will rapidly begin to decline and die.
Common Problems, Pests, and Diseases
When grown as houseplants, you might encounter mealybugs, scale, or spider mites on your pineapples.
Spider mites can be rinsed off with a moderately strong spray of lukewarm water. Do this once a week until all signs of the pests are gone. Mealybugs and scale can be scraped off with a butterknife or killed by wiping them with isopropyl alcohol. Make sure not to touch the plant itself with the alcohol.