Pineapple is the fruit-head of a tropical plant that grows 2 to 5 feet high and 3 to 4 feet wide, with long, sword-like leaves. Originally found growing wild in southern Brazil and Paraguay, pineapple was cultivated throughout South and Central America long before continental trade developed. Spanish sailors later brought pineapple to the Philippines and then to Hawaii in the sixteenth century. The first Hawaiian pineapple plantation was established in 1885 on Oahu and the islands were major producers from the 1920s to the mid-1960s, when other tropical regions began to grow and sell the fruit much cheaper. Most U.S.-grown pineapple still comes from Hawaii or Puerto Rico, with negligible production in Florida and California. The bulk of pineapple consumed in the United States, however, comes from Central America and Mexico.
Pineapple can grow up to 12 inches in length and 5 to 6 in width with each plant typically producing from one to three heads. Pineapple is a syncarp, meaning it is comprised of many flowers fused into one unit that then ripens. A rough, sometimes barbed rind surrounds the fleshy and sweet fruit, which ranges in color from very light to rich golden yellow (though a new pink variety from Del Monte is turning heads).
Pineapple is a perennial plant, producing 2 to 3 crop yields in approximately 32 to 46 months. New plants take about 18 months to bear fruit.
References: University of Florida/IFAS Extension, Purdue University, University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service, Smithsonian magazine.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
The most common variety of commercial pineapple is the Smooth Cayenne, which produces a 5- to 6-pound fruit with yellow flesh and relatively high sugar content. Hilo is a Smooth Cayenne variant that grows in Hawaii. Other varieties include the Red Spanish, a little smaller at 2- to 4-pounds with more of a square shape than a cylinder. The Queen is a 2- to 3-pound fruit with sweet, yellow flesh, a mild flavor and crisper texture. Singapore Spanish is larger with yellow flesh, and Sugarloaf is larger still at 5- to 6-pounds with white flesh and a core that can be eaten. Many other varieties are grown around the world, including India’s Giant Kew, which can weigh up to 10 pounds and the Cabezona, a variant of Red Spanish, grown in Puerto Rico.
References: University of Florida Extension, Purdue University, University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service.
PESTS & DISEASE
Diseases include a number of rot conditions, including root, heart, black, and core rot, pink disease, wilt, yellow spot virus, and bacterial diseases. Ensuring adequate drainage and airflow can prevent most rots and diseases.
Common pests include mealybugs, nematodes, mites, and scales. Nematodes damage roots while other pests attack the leaves. Ants may cultivate mealybugs and scales for their own food source and “farm” them into other crop areas.
References: Purdue University, University of Florida Extension, University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service.
CULTIVATION, STORAGE & PACKAGING
Pineapple grows best in tropical environments receiving at least 40 inches of rain annually. In some growing areas with less rain, such as Hawaii, irrigation may be necessary. Rich, loamy soils with a low pH (ranging from 4.5 to 6.5) are best. Soils should be loose to allow roots to grow deep, but good drainage is necessary as waterlogging will damage plants.
New crops are cultivated from portions of old crops such as crowns, leafy fruit tops, or undeveloped fruit or floral buds. Plant portions are dried for a few days, treated with fungicide, and then planted for later transplant. Actual seeds are difficult to germinate; seedlings are transplanted into fields at about 15 to 18 months and produce fruit 16 to 30 months later. Nitrogen fertilization helps develop larger fruit.
Pineapple is harvested both by hand and by semi-mechanical methods. It is then washed, waxed, and usually treated with a fungicide before sorting and grading. The fruit should be cooled quickly; if stored at 45 to 46°F pineapple will continue to ripen and last up to 4 weeks. Storing fruit at 45°F or below will cause chilling injury. Despite its seemingly hearty exterior, pineapple is susceptible to bruising and damage during transport.
References: Purdue University, University of Florida Extension, Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, UC Davis Postharvest Techology website, University of Hawaii at Manoa Cooperative Extension Service.