Also known as the Canary Island date palm, the pineapple palm (Phoenix canariensis) is often found on terraces or in gardens.
The attractive plant is robust and extremely frugal, which is why it still thrives well in mild climates.
There are about 14 different species of Phoenix palms, all of which come from rather dry climates. You can cultivate them as ornamental plants in tubs.
Origin and Distribution
The Canary Island date palm or pineapple palm (Phoenix canariensis) belongs to the palm family (Arecaceae).
It is one of about 14 different species of the genus Phoenix palms, which, originating from the Near East. They have spread via India and North Africa to the subtropical and tropical regions of Africa as well as to the Mediterranean islands, the Azores, and the Canary Islands.
The pineapple palm, in turn, originates from the Canary Islands, where, however, you can rarely find it in the wild. The species is closely related to the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which has been cultivated for its fruit for thousands of years.
Due to its high ornamental value and robustness, you can cultivate the pineapple palm as a tub plant in gardens, on terraces or balconies, as well as in winter gardens.
Since the plant is not hardy, you should not plant it out in the garden in too cold areas. In the Mediterranean regions, however, it is often found as an avenue or park planting.
Date palms develop deep roots that allow them to survive even in a very dry environment. For this reason, the plants also thrive in oases in the middle of otherwise hostile sandy deserts.
If space is limited, it is recommended to cultivate a dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii). This variety is well adapted to container cultivation.
Use As a Houseplant
Although date palms are often touted as houseplants, you should not keep them in the living room year-round. There, they are only comfortable during the short transitional periods in spring and fall.
During the summer months, these Mediterranean plants require significantly more light than they would receive even in the brightest spot in the home. For this reason, they are better off outdoors.
During the winter months, on the other hand, cool but frost-free and bright wintering is advisable. Pineapple palms kept purely as houseplants do not usually have a long life span.
Appearance and Growth
All date palms are so-called pinnate palms. These palms are green all year round and also form stems of varying strength depending on the species.
The pineapple palm, for example, initially grows without a trunk, as this only forms over the course of the years. In its natural habitat, the Canary Island date palm reaches heights of up to 50 ft (15 m). But, of course, it remains significantly lower when grown in pots.
The strikingly patterned trunk of this palm species develops from the woody stigmas of the dead leaves, with the lower part eventually becoming smooth in older specimens.
The dwarf date palm, on the other hand, develops a trunk only up to 6 inches (15 cm) thick. It reaches a maximum growth height of about 7 ft (2 m).
The characteristic, imparipinnate leaves of the phoenix palm are located at the upper end of the trunk and protrude in an arching manner. As a rule, the fronds at the tips of the leaves are equally spaced apart.
Therefore, the plant always looks evenly grown. Date palms continuously form new leaves while the old ones die, thus gradually forming the trunk.
The Canary Island date palm forms long pointed, broad fronds up to 16 ft (5 m) long with green leaves that can develop into an impressive crown.
The dwarf date palm, on the other hand, grows fronds no more than 7 ft (2 m) long. However, the petioles of both species are often spiny.
In its native habitats, the pineapple palm produces numerous flower panicles between February and May. These are up to 5 ft (1.5 m) long and are dioecious. This means that both male and female flowers develop.
However, the pineapple palm does not flower in mind climates, or only if cultivated appropriately in a climate-controlled conservatory.
Dates are available in dried form in supermarkets, especially during Advent and Christmas. The fruits, which are elongated and fleshy seeds, grow exclusively from the female flowers.
These sit very abundantly on long panicles. However, only the true date palm (Phoenix dactylifera) produces edible dates, and it only fruits in warm growing regions.
The fruits of the pineapple palm, on the other hand, are not edible due to their very tart taste.
Is the Pineapple Palm Poisonous?
Like all true palms, the pineapple palm is not poisonous. You can therefore cultivate it in households with small children and pets without any problems.
Caution should only be taken with the long, hard leaves, which can easily cut through skin.
Which Location is Suitable for the Pineapple Palm?
The pineapple palm needs a bright and warm location, and it is best to place it outdoors in a sunny to light semi-shady spot protected from cold winds.
The plant, which is adapted to the Mediterranean climate, does not tolerate constant drafts or cold rain.
The pineapple palm feels particularly comfortable in light partial shade, but after a period of acclimatization, it also tolerates direct sunlight quite well.
However, shading against too bright midday sun should be possible. If it gets cooler than about 59 °F (15 °C), the plant belongs in a place indoors that is as bright as possible.
Date palms are very well suited for cultivation in a warm conservatory, provided that there is regular ventilation and it is bright enough.
Like all palms, the pineapple palm feels comfortable in loose palm soil, which you can either buy ready-made at a store or mix yourself from two-thirds compost soil and one-third lava gravel or coarse sand.
Watering the Pineapple Palm
Since a lot of water evaporates through the large fronds, the pineapple palm has a high water requirement.
Water it thoroughly whenever the substrate has dried on the surface. Do not allow the soil to dry out or the plant to stand in a constant puddle of water.
Rainwater is best for watering, but you can also use tap water containing lime. If the water is hard, balance the lime content with occasional fertilization with coffee grounds.
Likewise, unlike tropical representatives of the palm family, pineapple palms, which come from a semi-arid climate, do not need to be sprayed. They usually do great with humidity levels between 40 and 60 percent.
Fertilizing the Pineapple Palm Properly
During the growing season between April and September, you should provide the pineapple palm with a suitable fertilizer about every two weeks.
Special palm fertilizer is suitable for this purpose, but any conventional leaf or green plant fertilizer can also be used.
Make sure that the phosphorus (P) content of the latter is somewhat lower than that of potassium (K) and nitrogen (N).
Dose rather weakly, because as a result of overfertilization, the plant, which is sensitive in this regard, quickly dies. Do not fertilize during the winter dormancy period.
Repotting the Pineapple Palm
Since pineapple palms grow rather slowly, you only need to repot them into a larger container every few years.
It is high time to take this step when the roots fill the entire pot and can no longer find enough space. Choose a wider as well as deeper pot now, as date palms develop strong tap roots and therefore grow downward like carrots.
The best time to repot is spring – before clearing out from winter quarters – or late fall before putting it away in the winter quarters.
Pruning the Pineapple Palm Properly
Palm trees, including the pineapple palm, should not be pruned, as this creates an unattractive visual appearance and the wound areas also provide an ideal entry point for fungi and other pathogens.
This also applies to withering leaves, which are common and typical of palm growth. They eventually develop into the trunk. Therefore, do not cut off the fronds until they are completely dry.
Do not attempt to limit the growth height of the pineapple palm by trimming or capping the fronds. The only way to affect growth to some extent is to shorten the roots in the process of repotting. This causes the plant to grow more slowly.
Propagating the Pineapple Palm
The easiest way to propagate pineapple palms is via the side shoots sprouting from the root area next to the main trunk in spring.
Simply cut them off and plant them in a pot with a growing medium. Place it in a bright and warm place and keep the soil slightly moist, then the offshoot will root within a few weeks with a bit of luck.
Wintering the Pineapple Palm
If it gets permanently cooler than 59 °F (15 °C) outside in the fall, you should gradually prepare the pineapple palm for overwintering.
Stop fertilizing, gradually reduce watering and finally place the plant in a bright and about 50 to 59 °F (10 to 15 °C) cool place. An unheated conservatory, bedroom, or stairwell serves well for this purpose.
Species and Varieties
In addition to the species Phoenix canariensis described here, the dwarf date palm (Phoenix roebelenii), which is widespread in Southeast Asia, is also suitable for container culture.
This Phoenix species, which grows about 3 ft (1 m) tall in indoor culture, has very similar preferences to the related pineapple palm in terms of location, substrate, and care.