When truly fresh, a pineapple is one of the tropic's great gifts, with juicy flesh and a distinctive aroma. Originally from southern Brazil and Paraguay, the fruit was taken to Europe by Columbus and it was spread by explorers and traders.
As it was expensive to import pineapples to Europe two centuries ago, only the rich could afford them. It was a sign of friendship and hospitality to offer guests the fruit, and so it became a symbol of hospitality — which explains the pineapple motifs on gates and entryways.
In the 19th century, pineapples joined sugar as a major crop in Hawaii, but as land and labor costs rose and tourism flourished, the big plantations have dwindled. Pineapples were an early crop in South Florida, but they proved susceptible to cold and nematodes. However, for the home gardener, they're rewarding fruits to grow. They take 12 to 24 months to produce the aggregate fruits.
Botanical name: Ananas comosus; Ananas bracteatus and other cultivars.
Height: 2 to 4 feet.
Culture: Start your pineapple from the top of a fruit. Cut away the lower leaves on the stem and dry the top for a couple of days. Place the top firmly into damp sandy soil in a container. By using a container, you avoid nematode problems.
Water once a week, and fertilize with 7-3-7 or a palm special fertilizer every four months. Overwatering may cause rot. Watch for mealybugs and scale in the top leaves, and treat with insecticidal soap.
Just when you give up hope, a small fruit will begin to develop. As it matures, you will see the color change to golden. Small offshoots at the base of the plant can be used to start your next generation of pineapples, or begin again with the cut-off top after you have enjoyed it.
There are many varieties of pineapple, and many kinds of ornamental pineapples that seduce your eye if not your taste buds. Stokes Tropicals is an Internet source for pineapples; Home Depot occasionally stocks them; available now at www.homedepot.com.
— MIAMI HERALD FILES