16 August 2016

Pineapple Fields Forever

The pineapple: we eat them fresh, cooked, juiced, and preserved but probably with little thought about where they come from or how, in fact, they grow.  So, the often vast plantations on which the fruit is propagated can be something of a revelation. Welcome to the world of the pineapple.

It is easy, perhaps, to imagine pineapples growing on trees: given the name that would be a fair assumption after all.  Yet the pineapple is herbaceous and has no persistent wooden trunk above the ground.  Although some do grow taller most pineapple varieties never develop any more than five feet tall.  However, seen en masse, they are something of an unexpected spectacle.

The pineapple has a few more surprises in store.  What we buy is not in fact a single fruit but many berries which coalesce together after they flowers have blossomed and been fertilized.  After flowering it can take up to six months for the fruit to be ready for harvest – time consuming but most would agree well worth the wait. Interesting facts about pineapples.

Image Credit Riacale
Image Credit Flickr User SAGT
As in all nature there is some awe-inspiring mathematics at work too.  The fruit does not coalesce in any random manner.  The berries draw together and form a pair of helices which are locked together.  There are eight fruit in one direction and in the other thirteen.  These are both Fibonacci numbers – part of the sublime sequence where each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21 and so on).

Image Credit Gloveles
Image Credit Derrick S
Each plant does not necessarily just produce a single pineapple.  Once one begins to form side shoots grow off the main stem.  The choice is then down to the individual grower whether to remove them for individual propagation or to leave them to produce more fruit on the original plant.

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Although the pineapple is now grown all over the world it is native to South America – both Brazil and Paraguay both lay claim to being the place where the plant originated.  Although its exact place of origin is unknown by the time Columbus landed on Guadeloupe in 1493, its cultivation had spread as far a Mexico and the Caribbean. 

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Image Credit Alex Rudy
The Spanish took it far afield – first to Hawaii: it is maintained that the first pineapple to grow there was planted as early as 1500. The plant was also taken, early on, to the Philippines and later to Zimbabwe and Guam.  Although the climate of Europe means the fruit cannot be grown outdoors, it became an immediate must have in the hot-houses of the continent once the technology of the day allowed it in the early 1700s.

Image Credit Ramdmidia
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The plant in its many varieties has found new homes all over the world and Brazil is now only the third largest producer of the fruit, trailing behind the Philippines and Thailand.  Yet the latter countries eat a lot of pineapples and so although Costa Rica and Cote d’Ivoire produce less, they are the world’s primary exporters of the fruit.  It is likely that if you live in Europe or the United States then the last pineapple you ate came from one of these countries even though this particular hybrid was developed in Hawaii in the 1970s.

Image Credit  Kim1066
Image Credit Mickey Bo
The sight of pineapples growing in situ certainly beats any display that even the most creative of supermarket employees can come up with.

First Image Credit Karendesayu