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The pineapple (Ananas comosus: Bromeliaceae) is one of the most popular tropical fruits.  The name pineapple in English (or piña in Spanish) comes from the similarity of the fruit to a pinecone.  Ananas comes from anana, the Tupi word for the fruit, meaning "excellent fruit".  Comosus means tufted and refers to the stem of the fruit.

Early History

Prior to the discovery of the pineapple fruit by Cristobal Colón (Christopher Columbus) on 4 November 1493, the fruit was already a stable component of the vegetative-crop complex and in the diet of native Americans in the lowland tropics. The European explorers were impressed by this large and delicious fruit and often mentioned and described it in their chronicles. These early reports indicate that domesticated pineapple was already very widely distributed in the Americas (Orinoco, Amazon, coastal Brazil around Rio de Janeiro) and the Caribbean prior to the arrival of Columbus. In some cases, the Europeans themselves could have contributed to pineapple dispersion in the continent. On the other hand, if the natives dispersed these new crops so quickly, they very probably had done the same with pineapple long before Colón. Other evidence points to the antiquity of pineapple cultivation. Thus, the names ‘nanas’ and ‘ananas’ were extensively used throughout South America and the Caribbean.

Early European explorers observed a high degree of domestication and selection exhibited in the pineapples they found. The Amerindians easily distinguished landraces from the wild types and had developed a thorough knowledge of the crop agronomy, including its production cycle. Specifically adapted landraces (e.g. the Andean ‘Perolera’ and ‘Manzana’) were found with variation in fruit yield and quality. Five additional centuries of work by talented horticulturists and modern plant breeders have not added significantly to the variety of domesticated types. In addition to the fresh fruit, the native Americans used pineapple for the preparation of alcoholic beverages (pineapple wine, chicha and guarapo), for the production of fibre, and for medicinal purposes, as an emmenagogue, abortifacient, antiamoebic and vermifuge and for the correction of stomachal disorders, and for the poisoning of arrowheads. Most of these medicinal uses are related to the proteolytic enzyme bromelain of the pineapple. The native Americans also domesticated the curagua, a smooth-leaved type with a higher yield of long and strong fibres, and used it for making nautical and fishing-lines, fishing nets, hammocks and loincloths. There is still a small traditional industry based on pineapple fibre in Brazil and even in the Philippines, where ‘piña cloth’ was mentioned as early as 1571.

From the early 1500s, the pineapple fascinated the Europeans, who introduced and grew it in greenhouses. The first successful greenhouse cultivation was by Le Cour, or La Court, at the end of the 17th century near Leyden. He published a treatise on pineapple horticulture, including ‘forcing’ the plants to flower. Pineapple plants were distributed from The Netherlands to English gardeners in 1719 and to France in 1730. As pineapple cultivation in European greenhouses expanded during the 18th and 19th centuries, many varieties were imported, mostly from the Antilles. Griffin (1806) described ten of them and considered most of the others as useless and their cultivation cumbersome. Others have described numerous varieties. The now famous variety Cayenne Lisse (‘Smooth Cayenne’) was introduced from French Guiana by Perrotet in 1819. With the notable exceptions of ‘Smooth Cayenne’ and ‘Queen’, most of these early varieties disappeared as commercial cultivation in Europe declined and pineapple fruit was imported from the West Indies. ’Smooth Cayenne’ and ‘Queen’ were taken from Europe to all tropical and subtropical regions. The Spaniards and Portuguese dispersed other varieties, including ‘Singapore Spanish’, to Africa and Asia during the great voyages of the 16th and 17th centuries. However, the diversity of these varieties is still negligible compared with the variation found in America. ‘Smooth Cayenne’ is by far the most important variety in world trade; many others are only grown regionally for local consumption. Both Smooth Cayenne and Singapore Spanish can be called true cultivars.

This fruit is native to southern Brazil and Paraguay where its wild relatives occur.  Portuguese had introduced the pineapple to India and Java, and the fruit, delighted with the climate that so closely mirrored its conditions of origin, spread throughout the Far East. The Indians carried it to the West Indies before Columbus arrived.  In 1493 Columbus found the fruit on the island of Guadeloupe and carried it back to Spain and it was spread around the world on sailing ships that carried it for protection against scurvy.  The Spanish introduced it into the Philippines and may have taken it to Hawaii and Guam early in the 16th Century.  The pineapple reached England in 1660 and began to be grown in greenhouses for its fruit around 1720.

John Kidwell is credited with the introduction of the pineapple industry to Hawaii. Large-scale pineapple cultivation by US companies began in the early 1900s on Hawaii. Among the most famous and influential pineapple industrialists was James Dole who moved to Hawaii in 1899 and started a pineapple plantation in 1900. The companies Dole and Del Monte began growing pineapple on the island of Oahu in 1901 and 1917, respectively. Dole's pineapple company began with the acquisition of 60 acres (24 ha) of land in 1901, and has grown into a major company. Maui Pineapple Company began pineapple cultivation on the island of Maui in 1909. In 2006, Del Monte announced its withdrawal from pineapple cultivation in Hawaii, leaving only Dole and Maui Pineapple Company in Hawaii as the US's largest growers of pineapples.

In the US, in 1986, the Pineapple Research Institute was dissolved and its assets were divided between Del Monte and Maui Land and Pineapple. Del Monte took variety 73–114, which it dubbed MD-2, to its plantations in Costa Rica, found it to be well-suited to growing there, and launched it publicly in 1996. (Del Monte also began marketing 73–50, dubbed CO-2, as Del Monte Gold). In 1997, Del Monte began marketing its Gold Extra Sweet pineapple, known internally as MD-2. MD-2 is a hybrid that originated in the breeding program of the now-defunct Pineapple Research Institute in Hawaii, which conducted research on behalf of Del Monte, Maui Land and Pineapple Company, and Dole.

Pineapple is an important tropical fruit showing an increasing demand world wide, over the years.  World trade on fresh pineapple has shown 100 % increase during the last one decade.  Even though India is the fifth largest producer of pineapple in the world, its share in the world market is only 0.1 %.   The different Asian countries and the countries around the Indian ocean is importing about two lakh tons of pineapple in an year, mostly coming from distant countries.  This market can be exploited by Kerala if an earnest effort is made in the right direction.  


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Pineapple Research Station
Kerala Agricultural University
Ernakulam Kerala 686670