Where do pineapples come from?
The pineapple is the only edible member of the bromeliad family, which contains about 2,500 known species, almost all originating from Central and South America. 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.
Fit for a king
Westerners first saw pineapples in 1493 on the island of Guadeloupe during Christopher 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.
What’s in a name?
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.
Pineapples in Australia
Production spread to Wavell Heights, Zillmere (there’s still a Pineapple Street) and continued to spread north from there.
Pineapples are mostly grown in Queensland. The major growing regions south-east Queensland (particularly the Sunshine Coast hinterland, Maryborough and Wide Bay area), the Yeppoon area and North Queensland, including Mareeba and Mossman. A small number of pineapples are now also grown in the Northern Territory.
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.