Plant of the Week
Latin: Ananas comosus
The food spread across our holiday table represents a pictorial history of our culture and civilization. The rolls, made from cereal grains, establish our connection with European culture but the turkey and cranberries identify us as Americans. Foods from all quarters of the globe have found their way to into the stew of our melting-pot society; some have gained acceptance while others have been shunned. A few tropical foods, such as the banana and pineapple, have established a permanent place at our table while plantain and taro have not.
The pineapple is a short lived tropical perennial belonging to the bromeliad family, a curious group of plants found only in the New World. In tropical regions pineapples grow about five feet tall with their long, stiff, sword-shaped leaves in an upright rosette. If given all the space they want plants form neat circular rosettes three feet across.
The pineapple flower is an unusual affair consisting of 100 to 200 individual blossoms. Unlike most fruit, the six to eight-pound pineapple fruit forms without of the benefit of pollination, hence it never contains seeds.
The pineapple is thought to be native to the Parana-Paraguay River drainage of South America but when Europeans arrived they encountered it throughout the Caribbean islands and much of tropical America. Columbus took the pineapple back to Spain with him on his second voyage in 1493. The most common pineapple is an old selection called ‘Smooth Cayenne’ which was first commercially grown in the 1830 but was cultivated by the Indians of northern South America long before that.
Because sea voyages were so slow, pineapples were a highly prized delicacy that only the wealthiest Europeans could afford. In 17th century Europe the pineapple became a centerpiece for fancy dinner parties where the upper class would rent pineapples to display on raised pedestals on their tables. You knew you had arrived if you were actually wealthy enough to eat the fruit.
The French writer Alexis de Tocqueville who traveled in America in the 1830’s and commented on American Democracy observed that sailors in Newport, RI would display pineapples on their front stoops to show they were home from a Caribbean voyage and had fruit to share. From these early traditions the pineapple motif became popular in wallpaper, embroidery and architectural adornments where they symbolized wealth and generosity.
As a fruit the pineapple is the third most important tropical crop. It is produced in all tropical countries with Indonesia, the Philippines and Brazil the largest producers. About 80% of the world supply is canned with the remainder consumed fresh.
Pineapple plants must be at least a year old to fruit with plants usually fruited two or three times before being replaced by new plants. In olden days pineapple growers used to burn brush around the field or beat their plants with a stick to get them to flower. In the 1960’s scientists learned that a natural plant hormone called ethylene triggered flower development in bromeliads. Today a sprayable form of ethylene is used to synchronize flowering so that fruit ripen all at the same time, thus simplifying harvest.
Pineapple plants can be grown as a houseplant, and if you are patient they will even produce a pineapple. Get a fresh pineapple at the store, choosing one that has an attractive, fresh looking crown. Cut off the crown and pot it in a six inch pot in regular potting soil. In two to three months the plant will root. Give the new plant as much light as possible but be sure to keep the night temperature above 65 degrees. Plants must have at least 25 normal sized leaves to be large enough to flower and produce fruit. Several years may be required to grow the plant that large.
By: Gerald Klingaman, retired
Extension Horticulturist - Ornamentals
Extension News - December 20, 2002
The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture does not maintain lists of retail outlets where these plants can be purchased. Please check your local nursery or other retail outlets to ask about the availability of these plants for your growing area.