The Shawnee News-Star Weekender April 4 2020 Becky Emerson Carlberg Behold the mighty pineapple. 'Ananas comosus' is represented in over 2,700 species and 30 cultivars. A stocky plant with thick, long leaves where some species grow over six feet tall and others may live twenty years.  This tropical/semi-tropical perennial with 30 inch-long strap leaves from […]

The Shawnee News-Star Weekender April 4 2020

Pineapple in Bloom

Becky Emerson Carlberg

Behold the mighty pineapple. 'Ananas comosus' is representedin over 2,700 species and 30 cultivars. A stocky plant with thick, long leaveswhere some species grow over six feet tall and others may live twentyyears. 

This tropical/semi-tropical perennial with 30 inch-longstrap leaves from the Brazil-Paraguay region in South America will grow strongfor 1 to 2 years.  It then sends up from thecenter a floral spike inflorescence on a thick stem with as many as 200 flowers,each supported by a thick bract and all bloom consecutively in spiralfashion.  The flowers turn into berries whicheventually fuse together to form a multiple fruit topped by a little crown ofwaxy leaves.  The joined hexagonal fruitsare organized in the pattern of two interlocking but opposing circling paths.  Usually there are eight rows curving upwardin one direction and 13 rows twisting the opposite way. 

The 8 and 13 are part of the Fibonacci number series: 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34, 55 and so on.   The previous two numbers are added together to give the next sum (beginning with 0 and 1). Thus, 0+1=1, 1+1=2, 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8 and so on.   What is so cool about the Fibonacci sequence is it is found in the branching of trees, leaves on stems, petals on daisies, arrangement of bracts on a pine cone, florets on a sunflower, fruits on a pineapple, flowers of an artichoke and even the pedigree of bees and people.

Pineapple growing in the Greenhouse

When the pineapple is blooming, it indeed looks likecolorful pine cone.  No seed is thedesired trait since seed production diminishes fruit quality. In the wild,hummingbirds and bats are pollinators, but this encourages seedproduction.  Cultivated pineapples will developwithout fertilization of flowers. Sometimes the occasional tiny black seed can be found just underneaththe fruit peel and even planted.  Verytime consuming.  Pineapple growers usesuckers, the small plantlets that form between the leaves.

Pineapples are grouped into four classes:   Red Spanish, Queen, Smooth Cayenne and Pernambuco. Mayans and Aztecs were first to cultivate pineapples.   Columbus brought the plant back to Spain in the late 1400s and called it 'Pine of the Indians'.   The Portuguese took pineapple from Brazil to India in 1550.   The Spanish transported pineapple to the Philippines in the 1600s.   Europeans had trouble growing pineapple until 1658 when Pieter de la Court of Leyden, the Netherlands, succeeded in cultivating plants in greenhouses.   In 1677 King Charles II posed for a portrait showing him receiving a pineapple as a gift.   It may have been the first pineapple grown in England.   The special fruit owed its life to the huge 'pineapple stove' that heated the greenhouse.   Wealthy aristocrats not only imported pineapples but funded the propagation of pineapples.   The pineapple soon became associated with royal bearing and became a symbol of wealth.

Pineapple card from Colonial Williamsburg

The tropical fruit was expensive. Low supply translated intohigh prices. Pineapple parties were held to impress others.  Often the pineapple was rented fromconfectionary stores and returned after the party to be sold to a more affluentcustomer!  Ships loaded with fresh andpreserved pineapple left Caribbean ports in route to Europe and other destinations.  The faster they went, the better thecondition of the fruit upon arrival. Sea captains in the southern US wouldbring back pineapples which were placed outside their doors to showhospitality.  The pineapple transitioned froma status symbol to a sign of welcome and good luck. 

Today pineapples are grown in large plantations.   Cultivation is global, under the control of multinational corporations, and is quite commercialized. Costa Rica is #1 producer with 3 million tons per year.   Other top producers are Brazil and the Philippines.  The US and Europe buy most of the fresh Costa Rican and Brazilian fruit, but Japan and Korea rely on fresh Philippine pineapples.

Vast monocultures of pineapples require large amounts ofpesticides. Up to 50 different types are used in Costa Rica. Hormone disruptors/organophosphates(Roundup) and organochlorines (Paraquat) have compromised worker health byincreasing cancer and birth defect rates. The chemicals have contaminatedground water and local water reservoirs. Combined with erosion, the effect hasbeen severe environmental damage, especially in Costa Rica.  The country has doubled its pineappleproduction the past decade. 70% of workers in Costa Rica come from Nicaraguaand are afraid to say anything.  Averagesalary is $83/week for 80 hours work. Keeps down the prices in supermarkets. In Costa Rica the pineapple is the #2 export, composing 50% of the worldmarket. In 2019, pineapple numbers dropped and prices fell for the first timein 3 years. The country is currently trying to find a balance between economicand ecological sustainability.   

Pineapple just separated from its mother

My homegrown pineapple is very organic.  It originated from a crown cut from a maturecommercial pineapple that was allowed to dry before being placed in the large2'x1'x1' wood planter with no bottom.  Leaves,dirt, pine needles and cones washed onto the walkway in front of the house hadfilled the planter.  The little pineappleloved growing in the leaf litter mixture under the persimmon tree and enjoyedthe surprise attacks of heavy rain. Pineapples are surprisingly droughttolerant and can even endure temps below 30 degrees, but don't press your luck.

Only when November frosts threatened the tropical did I buya large green pot, fill it with actual potting soil and transplanted thepineapple into new digs.  It spent onewinter in the greenhouse and was moved outdoors early spring.  Out of the blue emerged this small pine conefrom the center of the pineapple.  Itkept getting larger before small blossoms soon appeared.  In the autumn the pineapple with its growingbaby were taken back into greenhouse.  Ilet the little pineapple do its thing. Once baby reached the size it wanted to be, the outside turned fromgreen to yellow.  The entire fruit becamea golden nugget which smelled heavenly.  Thelast week in March I took my snips and cut the fruit from the thick stem of themother plant.  She won't send up another baby,but will probably produce side suckers. Although it took a year, the harvestedsmall pineapple was super sweet. Turns out higher temperatures increase thesweetness.  Glad I kept the radiatorsgoing.

Pineapple slices so ready to eat

Ripe pineapple fruits can be eaten raw, cooked, grilled,juiced, dried or canned.  They containthe proteolytic enzyme bromelain, a protein tenderizer as well as good amountsof manganese, vitamins C and B1.  Ninety-fivepercent of canned pineapple is the 'Smooth Cayenne' cultivar. It has smoothleaves, unlike other varieties with sharp, upcurved spines along the leafedges. Pineapple leaves themselves may be pounded and applied to bruises, madeinto paper, boiled and taken as a medicinal tea, and used in handicraftprojects.  Pineapple peels anyone?  These can be boiled for an hour, sugar addedand voila, you have tasty pineapple tea.

'Be a pineapple.  Standtall, wear a crown, and be sweet on the inside.'  Kat Gaskin