Known universally for its succulent yellow fruit, pineapple is an exotic member of the family Bromeliaceae, native to South America. This herbaceous perennial has a short, sturdy stem and bears a rosette of spiny green leaves. In the plant’s second year, a flowering stalk emerges from the center; the inflorescence resembles a miniature pineapple covered with small red, pink, or pale purple flowers. This slowly develops into what we know as a pineapple, ripening brown on the outside and yellow on the inside.
The plant’s common name refers to the appearance of the fruit, which looks like a very large pinecone. Ananas comes from the Paraguayan word nana, which means “exquisite fruit.” Pineapple is cultivated throughout the tropics, with the largest production in Brazil, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Common Name: Pineapple
Description: Stout stem 2 to 5 feet tall, surrounded by long, straplike leaves with spiny edges; small red or purple blooms develop into a single cone-shaped fruit
Hardiness: To Zone 10
Flowering: December to January, when day lengths shorten
Parts Used: Fruit and leaves
Range/Habitat: Native to southern Brazil and Paraguay
Fresh pineapple fruit has a tangy, citrusy flavor that complements fruit desserts and salads. The fruit can also be sautéed, broiled, grilled, or baked. Try pineapple in sorbets, ice creams, relishes, syrups, and sauces. Pineapple salsa gives grilled pork and salmon a tropical twist. Use pineapple juice with brown sugar and mustard as a glaze for poultry. Top burgers with grilled pineapple rings and a sauce made of ketchup, mayonnaise, and chile paste.
Pineapple fruit is a good source of vitamins A, B, and C. It contains bromelain, an enzyme that aids in the digestion of protein and relieves stomach upset. Other enzymes in pineapple include amylase, which digests starch, and lipase, which digests fat. Bromelain has anti-inflammatory properties, making it useful as a dietary supplement to help your body heal more quickly after surgery and for those suffering from arthritis and stomach or digestive problems. When taken regularly, bromelain may help reduce inflammation and scarring of the arteries that can lead to cardiovascular disease.
Fresh pineapple is a good source of fiber, which helps relieve constipation. Its juice has mild diuretic properties. A juice made from the leaves is considered a powerful purgative and antiparasitic in Ayurvedic medicine. In clinical studies, it has been shown to be similar in effect to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Commercially, bromelain is obtained from the stem of the plant.
How to grow it
Pineapple thrives in tropical conditions and fertile, well-drained loam soil with an acid pH. In cooler climates, pineapple can be grown in a pot indoors and moved outdoors during summer, after nighttime temperatures remain above 60°F. Provide at least 6 hours of bright light daily and feed it monthly during the growing season. Avoid overwatering. After about 20 months, when the plant is at least 24 inches tall, flowering and fruiting may occur. Harvest the fruit when at least half of it has turned gold in color. Pineapple is commonly propagated vegetatively from the crown (the leaves at the top of the fruit).
Caution: Wear gloves when handling this plant; its spiny leaves can tear skin.