Thursday 22 February 2018

Time for a touch of the exotic

Late-blooming Fascicularia pitcairniifolia is a member of the hardy pineapple family
Late-blooming Fascicularia pitcairniifolia is a member of the hardy pineapple family

Gerry Daly

In late summer and early autumn, the red leaves and blue flowers of the hardy pineapple are unusual and very eye-catching. The hardy pineapple is part of the pineapple family, although it is not a true pineapple. In this country, the true pineapple, a tropical plant, is strictly a plant for a greenhouse or conservatory, but its cousin, the hardy pineapple, can bring a touch of the exotic to the garden outdoors.

This plant is sometimes also known as baboon's bum because of the bright red colour of the lower leaves, but that is as far as the resemblance goes. The botanical name fascicularia is used more than either of the common names. Fascicularia forms a low rosette or tuft of spiky, arching, evergreen leaves. All members of the pineapple family have this spiky-leaved rosette structure.

The leaves are tough, often waxy on the surface and carry slightly hooked spines. The plant starts with one tuft of leaves and this soon sprouts side-rosettes that grow out from under the main rosette. Eventually, each side rosette builds up to full size which can be 30 to 50cm across. The leaves can grow even longer in good conditions.

There are two species seen in gardens, and both of them are from Chile. The most commonly grown one with relatively broad grey-green leaves is Fascicularia bicolor, flowering in summer, though it can be erratic, producing one or two rosettes that colour up and sometimes none.

The second kind, Fascicularia pitcairniifolia, which is much more reliable about flowering, has narrow, brighter green and longer leaves. It flowers each year in late summer and autumn.

The true flowers are blue and make a tight cluster down at the centre of the rosette. As the flower buds form, the base of the leaves change colour to bright red. The red colour of the leaves endures for months, even after the blue flowers have withered.

Fascicularia is easily raised by dividing the clump and planting the rosettes, which take even with no roots. It tolerates partial shade well and can take relatively dry soil too, but it does not flower well, or colour the leaves, when grown in too much shade.

Although called hardy pineapple, fascicularia is not reliably hardy. It is fine in a mild area and in mild winters, but it is likely to sustain some damage in colder inland areas. It can be grown in a pot and kept in a greenhouse during the cold months. Mine suffered damage in the hard frost a few years ago, but new side-shoots appeared and the plants recovered slowly.

My sex-hormone trap is not working!

Q We have five old apple trees and one old pear tree and a huge problem with codling moth grubs. We have used the traps for the past three seasons but it looks like a high percentage is affected again. Clearly the pheromone-based glue traps are not working. Any suggestions?

A pheromone traps contain sex hormones that attract male moths but only catch some of them while fertilised females can go on laying eggs. A full trap is really an indicator that it's time to spray. If you can reach the trees, spray at blossom fall and two weeks later with a garden insecticide - organic if you wish - such as pyrethrum.

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