The pineapple, the scientific name Ananas comosus, is a tropical plant with edible fruit and the most economically notable plant in the family Bromeliaceae. The pineapple is native to South America, where it has been extensively cultivated for many centuries.
Let’s look at the History of Pineapples starting from ancient times.
The wild pineapple plant arises from the Paraná–Paraguay River drainages between Paraguay and southern Brazil. Not much is known about its apparent domestication, but it evolved as a crop throughout South American nations. It eventually reached Central America, the Caribbean, and Mexico, where the Aztecs and the Mayas cultivated it. By the second half of the 1400s CE, the natives extensively distributed domesticated pineapple, and it became a stable part of the Native American diet. The first invading European to discover the pineapple was Columbus, in Guadeloupe on the 4th of November in 1493 CE. The Portuguese brought the fruit from Brazil and introduced it into Western India by 1550 CE. The Spanish also launched the ‘Red Spanish’ cultivar from Latin America to the Philippines, and it was developed for textile use from at least the 17th century CE.
Columbus, who invaded the Americas, brought the pineapple plant back to Spain and called it piña de Indes, which means “pine of the Indians.” The pineapple was recorded in Antonio Pigafetta’s Relazione del primo viaggio intorno al mondo (1524 CE-1525 CE) and Peter Martyr’s Decades of the New World (1516 CE), and the first known painting was in Oviedo’s Historia General de Las Indias (1535 CE).
The pineapple attracted Europeans. They considered it a fruit of colonialism. However, it was not successfully grown in Europe until Pieter de la Court launched his greenhouse horticulture near Leyden from about 1658 CE.
Wild pineapple plants were issued from the Netherlands to English gardeners in 1719 CE and French ones in 1730 CE. In Britain, the first pineapple was planted at Dorney Court, Dorney in Buckinghamshire, and an enormous “pineapple stove” to heat the plants was established at the Chelsea Physic Garden in 1723 CE.
In Russia, Catherine the Great ate pineapples grown on her own estates before 1796 CE. In France, King Louis XV was offered a pineapple that officials had planted at Versailles in 1733 CE.
Because of the cost of direct import and the enormous price of equipment and labor needed to grow them in a European climate, in greenhouses called “pineries,” the pineapple became a symbol of wealth. They were originally used principally for lavish display at dinner parties rather than being consumed and were used again and again until they started to rot.
In the latter half of the 18th century, the pineapple fruit production on British farms became the subject of a great rivalry between rich aristocrats. John Murray, 4th Earl of Dunmore, constructed a hothouse on his estate surmounted by a colossal stone cupola 14 meters tall in the fruit’s shape; it is extensively known as the Dunmore Pineapple. In architecture, pineapple figures became ornamental elements signifying hospitality.
Several varieties, mostly from the Antilles, were investigated for European glasshouse cultivation. The most notable was “Smooth Cayenne”, introduced to France in 1820 CE, later re-exported to the UK in 1835 CE and then from the UK via Hawaii to Africa and Australia. “Smooth Cayenne” is now the prevailing cultivar in world production. Sweets and jams based on pineapple were extensively imported to Europe from Brazil, the West Indies, and Mexico from the 18th century. By the early 19th century, delicious fresh pineapples were directly transported from the West Indies in massive quantities to subdue European prices. Later pineapple production was controlled by Florida, and the Caribbean for North America, and the Azores for Europe because of the short trade routes.