Short-stemmed terrestrial bromeliad, up to 3m tall in flower. Basal rosette of 30-50 leaves with spiny margins. Collections of violet-red flowers (inflorescences) ovoid-conical. Fruits fleshy long, ovoid 'syncarps' of 100-200 fused berry-like fruits with spiny margins. Pollinated by hummingbirds (in cultivation pollination is prohibited).

Facts

  • Many people are surprised that pineapples grow on the ground.
  • Pineapples were cultivated by the Tupi-Guarani Indians in South American thousands of years before being brought to Europe by the Spanish conquistadors. Its Latin name Ananas came from the Guarani word nana meaning ‘fragrant excellent fruit’.
  • They were highly prized in 18th- and 19th-century Britain for their exotic taste and appearance, and became the ‘must-have’ fruit to show off one’s social status. They were nurtured in UK hothouses to grace the tables of the few at dinner parties.
  • Pineapple plants can live for up to 30 years, although commercial producers tend to replace the plants after one season. The scale of production is enormous and has become associated with environmental destruction, high levels of chemical inputs and poor working conditions. Fruits are mass-produced on farms hundreds of hectares in size. There is intense pressure to reduce pesticide usage, though breeding for pest and disease resistance has proved largely unsuccessful. Genetic modification has also been tried to control nematodes and mealy bugs.

Where it grows

Native to South America, the pineapple is now widely cultivated in dry, well-drained tropical habitats. The first commercial plantation, established in Hawaii in 1885, produced most of the world’s pineapples up until the 1960s. Since then Costa Rica, Ivory Coast and the Philippines have become the major exporters of fresh pineapples, with Thailand and the Philippines leading the processed pineapple trade.

Common uses

The tasty fruit and juice is popular with humans around the world, but residues from the juice are also used to make livestock feed because of their high vitamin A content.

Bromelain, a protein-digesting enzyme prepared from pineapple wastes, is used for tenderising meat, chill-proofing beer and treating inflammation, and is being investigated for treatment of blood clots (thrombosis).

Industrial alcohol, made from the fruit sugars, can be mixed with ether and used in car engines.

Although the leaf fibre is difficult to extract, it can be made into the very fine, silk-like pina cloth, as well as ropes, packing materials and fishing lines.

Useful links

Glossary

  • Basal: formed from the base.
  • Margin: leaf edge.
  • Ovoid: three-dimensionally egg-shaped with broader end at base.

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