The most popular of these species grow on tall, leafless, reed-like stems that arise from the ground and are topped with a whorl of green, tropical-looking leaves. When it flowers, the inflorescences erupt directly from the ground on short stems at the feet of the taller leaf stalks. The inflorescences are upright and deep red, featuring waxy red bracts very much like some of the other cone-type ginger flowers.
The white flowers are tucked inside this striking bract, which resembles a pineapple only in shape. The overall effect is beautiful and very tropical. Beyond the sheer beauty of the flowering specimen, what makes it surprising they aren't more widespread is their relative ease of growth, for a tropical plant at least. If you can grow a philodendron well, you can grow a Tapeinochilos.
- Light: These are understory plants so thrive in filtered sunlight. Inside, they might require a little more light to grow well, but shouldn't be given full sunlight.
- Water: These tropical plants are water hogs, much in the way the many ginger plants crave steady and ample moisture.
- Soil: Any good, fast-draining potting soil will likely do.
- Fertilizer: Feed with a weak liquid fertilizer throughout the growing season.
These are easy to propagate. The plants are rhizomatous, so can be easily divided by rhizome division during replanting, which will also help keep the plant fitted to its container size. Leaf tip cuttings can also propagate them. For best results, in the spring take new growth and place it into damp, rich soil and keep very warm and moist. A rooting hormone isn't necessary to have a good success rate.
Over time, the Tapeinochilos forms a small clump of stems arising from the mass of underground rhizomes. The clumping action is what gives rise to the dramatic flowering, so you should encourage your plants to clump without dividing too aggressively. When it comes to repotting, choose a large pot to accommodate the adult plant and be careful not to let the root structure and rhizome fall apart too severely. They are best repotted in the spring.
There are 16 species of Tapeinochilos, all native to the tropical Pacific region stretching from Malaysia to southern Australia. The most popular one, and likely the only one you'll be able to find, is the T. ananassae, which features the characteristic blooming habit. Mature plants have leaf stems that can reach 6 to 8 feet in height, but they are unlikely to get this big when grown in containers indoors unless you can offer it a greenhouse or conservatory.
The key to success with a Tapeinochilos is the same as for so many very tropical plants: lots of humid heat, dappled sunlight, and a steady supply of water and food. If you have the conditions to grow most of the rhizomatous ginger-like plants, you can likely grow the pineapple and ginger as well. Be careful, however, of cold spells and especially frost (don't leave your plant out on the patio when the weather starts to turn). Cold temperatures will kill the plant back to the ground. It will likely regrow, but will probably not flower for at least another season. Tapeinochilos are vulnerable to pests, including aphids, mealybugs, scale, and whitefly. If possible, identify the infestation as early as possible and treat with the leave toxic option.