Last week we were hammered with 50+ mph winds that took down road signs, port-a-Johnnies, business signs, trees and limbs. This week the weather plunged from mild through cold to frigid as the Arctic Express blasted southward.

Last week we were hammered with 50+ mph winds that took down road signs, port-a-Johnnies, business signs, trees and limbs. This week the weather plunged from mild through cold to frigid as the Arctic Express blasted southward.

Blame the pooling of cold air over snow and ice in eastern Alaska, the Yukon, northern Canada and Siberia. The big player is the Jet Stream which decided to dip down and carry the Arctic winds along for the ride. Arctic air is actually colder than Polar air and has lower dewpoints. Translation: frozen pipes, low humidity and tragic static cling.

I knew by the middle of February I should have changed the small garden flag flying the pair of Northern Cardinals perched on snow-covered holly branches with red berries. In 3 days, on March 5th, the Christian pre-Lent celebrations of the New Orleans Mardi Gras, the German Fasching Dienstag, the English Pancake Day, or Shrove Tuesday celebrations will culminate and end before Ash Wednesday. The word Lent comes from Anglo-Saxon ‘lencten’ for spring. The Fleur-de-lis mask with feathers should now be out. Spring is coming. St. Patrick’s Day is March 17th. My Lucky Leprechaun could be waving in the breeze while sitting in a pot o’ gold with rainbow and green clovers swirling around his head, but no, I still have not only a waving flag of snowflakes falling on redbirds but real frozen rain and fog covering trees, bridges, etc. this past week. Winter is still here.

Diverting my thoughts to bright shiny objects, I imagined myself on a beach watching ocean waves lap onto warm sand adorned with seashells. Near my feet were silver trays of fresh crisp veggies and tropical fruits. On the glossy ceramic plate sat thick slices of ripe juicy yellow pineapple. I like this fruit fresh, dried, in pies, cakes, juices and drinks. Pineapple says “It’s summertime.” Okay, perhaps we don’t want to conjure up temps over 100 degrees and drought as summers in Oklahoma often are, but summer can be a toasty fun time of year. Aren’t you feeling warmer already?

The pineapple plant (Ananas comosus), one of the few fruiting members of the bromeliad family, actually comes from our southern neighbors in South America, originating between southern Brazil and Paraguay. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil is only 5,346 miles from Shawnee. By the way, Rio has the largest pre-Lent Carnival in the world. Two million people per day are milling around the streets. Rio is also in one of the greatest pineapple growing regions. In 1915 this semi-mountainous region supported pineapple farms planted in newly cleared soils of clay and sand (certainly not a sustainable practice.) The height of the season was December and January with fruit transported on the backs of mules to boats and trains.

Brazil is now second (2.7 million tons) as prime grower for pineapples. Costa Rica ranks first at 2.9 m tons, Philippines is third (2.6 m tons) and China forth (2.1 m tons. That’s a lot of pineapple.

The pineapple plant, considered an herbaceous perennial, requires a lot of sunlight, 20” of rain per year or preferably when the soil is dry, humidity and well-drained soil. It grows if temps are between 70 to 95 degrees and refuses to budge if above or below those degrees. The formidable sharp pointed waxy leaves can reach 5 feet in length, which is why some call the leaves swords. The plant can grow 6 feet tall, but the shallow roots create anchor problems.

Pineapple propagation comes in many vegetative forms: directly from the mother plant as a crown (leaves and top of a pineapple fruit), slip (pineapple shoot off of the mother plant), sucker (small plant that grows between the leaves) and ratoons where an underground stem produces a plant. Depending on which form is chosen, flowers and fruits will follow in several months to two years. In a sense, the mother plant dies after fruiting, but her slips or suckers will continue to live, grow and produce fruit.

In the wild, hummingbirds, honeybees, and pineapple beetles pollinate the flowers during the day, and bats by night. Pineapple pollen is quite sticky. All result in seed formation. Commercial growers don’t want seedy fruit. Seeds are needed as breeding stock but this is achieved by hand pollination of pineapples.

Hawaii still has pineapples despite Dole and Del Monte pulling out. The yellow and white variety of pineapples ripen between March and July. Hawaii actually has no hummingbirds! Florida and California also commercially produce pineapples (and each state has over a dozen species of hummers!)

Pineapple fruits form within whorls of thick leaves around a thick central stem. The pineapple is composed of a large group of berries fused to a central stalk. Each berry has a rough, spiny eye in the middle, remnants of the flower and its petals. The fruit is mature when a percentage of the eyes turn yellow to reddish brown. Pineapples should be left to ripen on the plant. Once picked, they will not get any sweeter.

The sweetest part of the pineapple is right below the skin, its outer covering. One cup of pineapple only contains 82 calories. The fruit is high in vitamin C and manganese, a mineral responsible for strong bones and tissues. Bromelain, a digestive enzyme, not only helps break down proteins, but works on blood clots and mucus in the nose and throat.

Trivia: The pineapple does resemble a pine cone. European settlers to the southern Americas thought they looked like large pine cones and christened them pineapples.

A 13th century Italian mathematician Leonardo Fibonacci examined pine cones. He noted the pine bracts (modified leaves) that compose the cone grow in two spirals going in opposite directions. They do. Look at a pine cone. Adding the two previous numbers gets you into the Fibonacci number series: 1+2=3, 2+3=5, 3+5=8, 5+8=13, 8+13=21, 13+21=34 and so on. A pine cone may have 5 spirals going one way and 8 going the other. The pineapple usually has 3 spirals from each hexagonal scale and if you tally up all the spirals, you will come up with 8, 13 and 21 spirals. The Fibonacci number is found all through nature, from buds to leaves and flowers. I knew you wanted to know this.

I have raised pineapples for years, all from store bought fruits. My usual form is crown propagation after letting the crown air dry for a few days. It is then planted shallow depth in sandy soil kept lightly moist. My last two crowns were plunked down into a reservoir of leaves in a potting box under a persimmon tree in partial shade. Whenever I thought of it, I would occasionally water them. They loved it, grew roots, formed baby pineapples and presented problems before last year’s first frost. Roots and leaves had sprawled out in all directions. The plants lost their freedom and wound up in portable green pots rushed into the greenhouse one day before the temps dropped to below freezing. One small pineapple was harvested and eaten last week. Sweet! The other is still green and happy in the heated glasshouse.

The pineapple is a symbol of welcome and hospitality. Pineapples make great potted plants. Just beware of the pointy leaves.

Becky Emerson Carlberg, graduate of Oklahoma State (Plant Pathology) is a teacher, artist, writer as well as certified Oklahoma Master Gardener and Master Naturalist. Contact her at Becscience@att.net.