The pineapple is a tropical fruit that travels far in our modern age. Whether you live in the fjords of Iceland or the open prairies of Nebraska, chances are there are little pineapple cubes in your fruit cup, frozen bags of it in the freezer section of the grocery store, and maybe (if you’re lucky) heavy, delectably juicy, refreshing fruits on sale at a local market.
It’s a strange looking fruit when you think about it — its rough, textured rind and spiky leaves. If the pineapple wasn’t so commonplace in popular culture and advertising, it might seem as though this unique fruit hailed from an alien planet.
The same forces that make it possible to get pineapple in the far-flung corners of the globe are also part of a process that leads many people, particularly those living in urban areas, to feel separated and ill-informed about how their food grows and where it comes from. Have you recently cut into the tender yellow flesh of pineapple and wondered where it came from? As you slice the rind away, are you struck by a curious whim as to how do pineapples grow? We’ve got some answers for you!
Pineapple, or Ananas comosus, is a tropical, edible fruit. It is an herbaceous perennial. The plant grows stocky and close to the ground. Its leaves are thick, waxy and tough. A pineapple plant can produce up to 200 flowers (and sometimes more) in its effort to create one fruit. When the plant flowers, its flowers join together to create a multiple fruit. A multiple fruit, or collective fruits, is defined as a fruiting body formed by a cluster of flowers. Each flower produces a fruit, and then the fruits combine into a single mass.
While many people seem to think that pineapple grows on trees, that’s not the case. Imagine a tough, spikey shrub with a treasure growing at its center – you’re probably not far off from how the pineapple looks when it is ripe for the picking.
In cultivation, pineapple plants form from the offset of the fruit. An offset is nearly-complete daughter plant that has been asexually produced by the mother plant. The plant will flower in five to ten months and the fruiting over the following six months. Pollination is done by hand since the development of seeds reduces fruit quality.
However, in the wild, pineapples are pollinated by hummingbirds and bats.
Native to South America, indigenous groups of southern Brazil and Paraguay domesticated the fruit plant and spread it throughout the continent, into the Carribean and Central America. Eventually, the Spanish brought the plant to Hawaii, the Philippines, Zimbabwe, and Guam.
Somewhere along the way, the pineapple became part of European iconography. It is a symbol of warmth and hospitality. Christopher Cumo, a food historian, explains how Pineapple was similar to sugar in that for a long time, it equated wealth and resources. Eventually, it became accessible to the masses. Cumo says that “Pineapple is the fruit of colonialism” due to the way colonial powers established plantations across the world for the delicious fruit.
Today, the Philippines remain as one of the largest exporters of the fruit. Costa Rica grows three-fourths of all the pineapples exported to Europe and it is not without an environmental and human-rights cost. Immense amounts of pesticides are used, affecting the soil and air quality and biodiversity in the region. There are studies that link these pesticides to carcinogens and possible birth defects as well. Additionally, workers are paid extremely low wages.
Now that you know a bit more about how pineapples grow and where they come from, do you feel differently about this fruit?