Ratoon versus pineapple

The ratoon pineapple is much smaller than a regular pineapple!

The ratoon pineapple is much smaller than a regular pineapple!

In my quest to make a comparison between ratoon and regular pineapple, I think the photo shows it clearly that the ratoon fruit is only about half the size of a normal pineapple. However, it also takes half the time to produce a fruit – about a year, versus two or more years for a regular pineapple. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably repeat it many times – I don’t know how the commercial growers do it! You’ve got to be supremely patient to grow these fruits!

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A Kalanchoe tale

Mother of Thousands - an apt name! Just look at all those baby plants waiting to drop and start growing...

Mother of Thousands – an apt name! Just look at all those baby plants waiting to drop and start growing…

I’m familiar with the kalanchoe plant – it has roundish, succulent leaves and has the most interesting habit of reproducing by growing new baby plants along the edges of the leaves, which drop off and quickly take root. This has given rise to its colloquial name, Mother of Thousands – which I honestly believe it can live up to.

Well, a friend recently asked if I could harvest some kalanchoe that she had heard about, growing wild somewhere in my regular stomping grounds. It was a different type of kalanchoe, she said, with skinny leaves but with the same habit of reproducing. Armed with an address and a photo of the plant, I went on the hunt.

I missed the plants on my first pass because they were pretty small – only about 7cm high (less than 3 inches) for the biggest of them. They were young plants, and the few that were growing were doing so in cracks in the cement, for the most part.

My preparation for this hunt was simple – I had a ziplock bag, a bottle of water, and tissue paper. Before harvesting anything, I first dampened the tissue paper and laid it along the bottom of the ziplock bag. Only then did I gently harvest some baby plants growing at the tips of each leaf. Since the plants were small, there were only about three babies per leaf. I scattered them onto the damp tissue then considered whether or not to harvest any plants.

Gently holding the base of one of the smaller plants, I lifted it to see how much, if any, of the root system would come along. About a centimetre of main root came up, with a tiny bit of secondary root. It didn’t look like much, but I enclosed the tiny roots in the damp tissue before lifting a second small plant, just to be kiasu. I chose young plants because I reckoned small plants would recover faster from any transplant shock.

The wild kalanchoe tubiflora plants looked hot and malnourished growing in the concrete cracks.

The wild kalanchoe tubiflora plants looked hot and malnourished growing in the concrete cracks.

Since I was transferring the plants from blazing heat into a damp, humid environment, I tried to make sure the leaves of the plants touched the wet tissue as little as possible. With that done, I sealed up the ziplock bag, trying to keep a lot of air inside so that the plants would be cushioned as I was went about. In a way, it was a sort of makeshift terrarium – that thankfully worked.

On my return home, I placed the two adult plants in some potting mix, and left the babies enclosed in the ziplock bag. Would you believe it – by the next day, the babies were all putting out roots! Yup, this is indeed a hardy plant. Just consider – they were growing in hard, compacted soil and in cracks in cement. I wonder if the plants will become a nuisance given a little more time? Knowing the characteristics of the kalanchoe plant, probably yes…

To get more familiar with this new(ish) plant, I went online to try to find out more about it. I think it’s the kalanchoe tubiflora, but I was shocked to learn that kalanchoe are poisonous plants. If consumed, they can affect the electrolyte balance in the heart muscle of both humans and animals (not that I have any inclination to eat them). One case that was mentioned a few times comes from Australia where a herd of cows died after grazing on these plants. You can read a bit more about the possible dangers from this plant at this website. I wonder if this means that snails don’t have hearts, because we had one regular kalanchoe plant that had been under constant attack by snails, and we didn’t see any dead snails around..

The kalanchoe tubiflora leaves looks uncannily like reptilian paws to me, reaching upwards. Each leaf tip bears about 3 babies.

The kalanchoe tubiflora leaves looks uncannily like reptilian paws to me, reaching upwards. Each leaf tip bears about 3 babies.

There’s no doubt that many plants that we grow are partly poisonous, and while it’s highly unlikely that we’ll suddenly decide to eat them for no apparent reason, it’s good to know which ones to be cautious about.

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The new Keng Hwa flowers!

Three flowers at a time - we love multiple-bloomers!

Three flowers at a time – we love multiple-bloomers!

So the new white Keng Hwa flower plant that I bought from World Farm finally decided to bloom! I was intrigued to see that the flowers are smaller than what we’re used to, and that there are subtle differences in them.

Pure white flowers

Pure white flowers

These flowers look so pristine because they’re all white. Ghostly, almost… And, the petals are shorter and broader than our original plant’s. The perfume of the flowers was also not as strong, and it appears to be a more willing multi-flower bloomer.

Our original Keng Hwa flower

Our original Keng Hwa flower

Our original Keng Hwa flower has the eye-catching red and yellow stamen, and an incredibly strong aroma when it blooms. Our usual guide to when they’re blooming when we don’t expect it, is the heady perfume that invades the house late at night – something that the smaller flowers can’t do as well.

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How we’ve multiplied our pineapple plants

I can't get over how cute a baby pineapple looks with those purple flowers! This is the ratoon fruit.

I can’t get over how cute a baby pineapple looks with those purple flowers! This is the ratoon fruit.

I am the great procrastinator. I know that when we harvested our ratoon pineapple last July, I said I was going to detach the sucker that had started growing on the parent plant. I say a lot of things but don’t always follow up on them. So, yes, we now have a second ratoon pineapple developing on the parent plant! And, that sucker has not one, but TWO siblings growing along with it!

Seeing the new pineapple start to grow finally kicked me into action, as I figured the plant would be able to devote more energy to developing the fruit if it didn’t have to also support extra suckers. I easily detached one that was higher on the stem – it came off with a little bit of twisting – and planted it nearby.

The second sucker, however, proved to be stubborn. It was lower on the stem and was leaning over a bit. I twisted it, and I yanked it, but it wouldn’t break off. Common sense made me stop, because the entire parent plant was rocking away, and I didn’t want to traumatise it and lose the new fruit. What I think has happened is that the sucker has taken root in the ground, because they do start to grow roots when on the parent plant, and it’s near ground level. I can’t tell for certain, though, because of the spiky leaves in the way. Does that make it a new, independent plant, or is it still a ratoon?

So, taking stock of things, here’s how we’ve multiplied our pineapple plants over the years: We started with the single plant that bore a beautiful, delicious pineapple. We replanted the top and harvested one sucker, and left the second sucker to try growing a ratoon pineapple. When we harvested that ratoon pineapple, we replanted that top, and the parent plant ended up growing another three suckers. One is now beginning to fruit, one has been detached and replanted, and the third has possibly taken root by itself. So, we started with one plant, and ended up with eight! Two have been harvested, and six are currently growing.

Ratoon fruit in the foreground, with the likely rooted sucker next to it. The detached sucker is in the background. I guess this is going to be a pineapple bed.

Ratoon fruit in the foreground, with the likely rooted sucker next to it. The detached sucker is in the background. I guess this is going to be a pineapple bed.

This brings up another question – how many suckers can a pineapple plant produce in the course of its lifetime? The original plant has already grown five. That being the case, we could have the beginnings of a pineapple plantation on our hands! It has taken six years to reach this point, though. You have to be really patient when growing pineapples!

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