Pineapple, a tropical plant and its edible fruit. It is so called because the fruit looks like a big, orange-yellow pine cone. The pineapple is neither a pine nor an apple. It is related to plants called bromeliads, which are commonly grown as houseplants. The pineapple is native to northern South America and is cultivated in many hot countries. In the United States it is grown in Hawaii and Florida as a fruit crop and elsewhere as an ornamental potted plant.

The commercial pineapple plant is two to four feet (60 to 120 cm) tall. The base of the plant is a radiating cluster of sword-shaped leaves, which may have spiny tips and thorny edges. The leaves yield delicate fibers that are made into piña cloth, a nearly transparent fabric produced mainly in the Philippines. (Piña is the Spanish word for pineapple.)

The fruit is borne, usually one at a time, on a fleshy stalk in the center of the plant. A pineapple is a multiple, or compound, fruit. It is composed of many diamond-shaped fruitlets fused together on a pulpy core. Each fruitlet is formed from a tiny purplish flower that blooms for only one day.

A ripe pineapple is about nine inches (23 cm) long and may weigh more than five pounds (2.3 kg). It has a sweet, tangy flavor and a distinctive fragrance. Pineapple bits and slices are used in salads, cakes, and ice cream, and as a garnish on ham and other meats. Pineapple juice is a popular breakfast beverage.

Cultivation and Marketing

Pineapple plants are grown in dry soil and direct sunlight. New plants usually are started from side shoots cut from the stems of mature plants. The cuttings are of two types: suckers, from the base of the stem, and slips, from just below the fruit. New plants also may be started from crowns, or the short leaves that grow from the top of the fruit.

Before planting, the field is overlaid with long strips of black paper. This task is done by machines that also fumigate the soil to kill insects. The paper keeps down weeds and conserves soil moisture and heat. The suckers, slips, or crowns are planted by hand or machine through holes punched in the paper.

Twelve to 20 months after planting, the ripe fruits are harvested by hand. The following year, fruits are harvested from one or two suckers, called ratoons, left selectively on each plant. A plant may be productive for as long as 10 years. However, plants are usually plowed under after 2 or 3 years because their fruits become smaller in each succeeding year.

Most pineapples are canned or made into juice; some are shipped fresh. The leading producers are Thailand, which accounts for about one-fourth of the world's crop, the Philippines, Brazil, Nigeria, India, and China.

History

The pineapple was cultivated by Indians in tropical America in prehistoric times. Columbus found the plant growing in the West Indies in 1493. Spanish and Portuguese voyagers brought the pineapple to other parts of the world in the 16th century. In northern countries the pineapple was known only as a hothouse curiosity or rare table delicacy until about 1900, when canning methods were perfected.

The pineapple is Ananas comosus Merr of the pineapple family, Bromeliaceae.