Fruit Fit For a Crown

Imagine the bravery of the very first person to try a pineapple.

Whoever it was, he or she likely saw an animal eating it with pleasure. Surely harvesting the bromeliad was easy: since pineapples grow close to the ground, in the middle of five-foot-long, serrated (and quite fierce-looking) leaves, it was a matter of carefully reaching in, picking the spiny fruit and enjoying.

It happened somewhere in South America, probably within an Incan or Mayan society, well before the time of exploration. Some credit Columbus with bringing pineapple to the New World and passing it on to the Caribbean; he’s also credited for naming it after the pine cone. Magellan is said to have found it in Brazil and that he took it to England, where it spread to India and the West Indies. But it wasn’t until the late 17th century that the plant became known as a pineapple.

European royalty was crazy for pineapple, but not knowing how to keep it healthy, palace gardeners wrestled with the plants. It took them two centuries to understand the cultivation of Ananas comosus. By then pineapples were so prized that they were often used for royal gift-giving.

Once the sweet fruit came to America, it retained its reputation as an item available only for the wealthy—even George Washington declared it a favorite. Still, perhaps because of the hefty cost of a single unit, the spiky fruit often sat as décor in colonial houses, served just before it was inedible. In the end, offering pineapple to guests was a good indication of social standing—thus the ubiquity of pineapple-as-motif in colonial decor.

In the later 1700s, James Cook took the pineapple to Hawaii where, about a century later and with better strides in water travel and timelier portage of the perishable fruit, an industry was born. In 1903, James Drummond Dole began canning pineapple, which made it easy to enjoy anywhere around the world. Today, Hawaii’s largest crop and biggest industry is the pineapple, and several other countries contribute to the world’s consumption.

Note—don’t try this at home: you may want to grow a pineapple, but without a large greenhouse, pollination is a tricky thing. And pineapples can’t be propagated by seed. If you try, stay hungry: it takes a plant three years to grow one fruit.