A symbolism of hospitality by Native Americans, Europeans retained this symbolism after the pineapple fruit was brought to their continent in the 16th century. A member of the bromeliad family, pineapple (Ananas comosus) grows in frost-free regions, including in large plantations in Hawaii and across Southeast Asia and Africa. The large fruits are easily canned, eaten fresh or harvested for juice. They contain the enzyme bromelain that degrades proteins and aids in tenderizing meats.
Pineapple plants are indigenous to the tropical regions of South and Central America and were widely cultivated by natives across the Caribbean before Christopher Columbus' arrival in the 15th century. Portuguese, Dutch and Spanish traders spread the plant around the world in the 16th century to regions like southeastern Asia and tropical sub-Saharan Africa.
A perennial evergreen bromeliad, pineapple grows upward of 3 feet tall. A basal stem holds a cluster of long, stiff leaves that are shaped like swords and lined with sharp spines. Leaves are green and often streaked with brown or red; some selections have creamy white variegation. Mature plants develop a central flower stalk that bears a cluster of flowers with a tuft of foliage at the top. After flowering, the fruit's weight bends the stalk over to the ground, allowing the foliage top to root on the soil surface and become a new plant. After a fruit is produced, the mother plant dies. Small plantlets, called pups, emerge from the base of the dying mother plant and replace it to produce more fruits 12 to 22 months later, according to Purdue University.
The fruit of the pineapple develops from the fusion of the stem, 100 to 200 independent flowers and their bracts and ovaries. Thus, it is regarded as a multiple/aggregate fruit like raspberries or strawberries. Modern varieties of pineapples are seedless and the aborted ovaries still ripen into the sweet, acidic flesh.
Grow pineapple plants in a moist, well-draining soil in a sunny location where it receives between six and 10 hours of direct sunlight daily. In hot, arid tropical regions, some shade from midday sun keeps the plant's foliage looking healthier or more ornamental. Grow it outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture winter hardiness zones 10 and warmer. Plant it in containers to grow as a houseplant or on the patio, moving it indoors when frosts threaten. Purdue University suggest that a winter with temperatures 10 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than that during the summer months helps to encourage flowering and fruit set the next spring or summer.
The leaves of pineapple plants are coarse and sharp, making it difficult to work around in a garden setting and a safety concern as a potted house plant. A large number of fungi pose problems to the cultivation of pineapple plants and are exacerbated by humid conditions, lack of air circulation and overly wet soils. Many soil nematodes can harm the plants, too. After fruits form, insects can bore into them, causing deformities or premature collapse.