The pineapple is the only edible member of the bromeliad family, which contains about 2, 500 known species, all originating from Central and South America except one. The wild ancestor of today’s modern pineapple is considered to be a plant with small, seedy fruit and spiny leaves from an equatorial region that spans Brazil and Paraguay. Cultivation over thousands of years by communities indigenous to that region (the Guianas) lead to superior fruit being continually selected and the development and domestication of the pineapple, which they call ‘anana’ meaning excellent fruit.
Westerns first saw pineapples in 1493 on the island of Guadeloupe during Columbus’ second voyage to “The New World”. It seemed they liked what they found and it soon became the fruit of royalty.
Records show King Ferdinand of Spain enjoying pineapples as early as 1530. Records also refer to Spanish navigators distributing pineapple plants throughout the tropics so early and widely that it has been considered indigenous to these areas. Pineapple leaf fibre (pina cloth) was being made in the Philippines in the 1500s and pineapples were introduced to India around 1548. The name pineapple was first recorded in England during the late 17th century and is thought to refer to the resemblance of the fruit to a pinecone. Grown more as a glasshouse plant in cold climates, it wasn’t until pineapples began to be imported from the Azores that it became popular in Europe.
The first pineapples introduced to Australia were the small but delicious rough leaf variety and it is thought they were brought in by German missionaries in 1838 who travelled to Australia via India’ The first commercial planting were established in Nundah (now a suburb of Brisbane) in the early 1840s. The larger, smooth leaf variety (Smooth Cayenne) came was introduced around 1858 and was from Kew Gardens in England. The main pineapple growing areas at that time were St Lucia, Fortitude Valley and Kangaroo Point (where the Pineapple Hotel remains to this day).
Production spread to Wavell Heights, Zillmere (there’s still a Pineapple St) and continued to spread north from there. In Queensland today pineapples are commercially grown from Brisbane to Cooktown and small quantities are grown in norther New South Wales and the Northern Territory (Darwin).
New varieties from Hawaii have been brought in more recently (in the 1980s) and breeding programs continue to this day that select for the most aromatic and delicious fruit and a variety of other useful traits, like disease resistance and vigorous growth.
Today, pineapples are produced commercially in Australia, the West Indies, the Azores, Hawaii, Brazil and South Africa and other climatically suitable countries.
Adapted from the Pineapple Best Practice Manual edited by Simon Newett, Garth Sanewski and Rudi Wassman, 2006, DAFF, Golden Circle and Growcom