Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pineapple

A popular tropical fruit, the pineapple. Ananas comosus, of the Bromeliaceae family, originated in South America, perhaps in the Parana-Paraguay basin, and spread through much of the continents lowlands and other tropical areas. After Ameridians domesticated the plant, the Spanish and Portuguese spread its cultivation throughout the tropics, aided by the fact that it is propagated readily from parts of the fruit.

Like many plants brought from the New World, pineapple became a greenhouse curiosity in 18th century England and France and attempts were made to improve the basic stock. Using European cultivars, the imperial powers established pineapple plantations in their tropical colonies. In 1896 improved English plants were introduced from Australia into Hawaii, where they have grown very successfully ever since. China is the world’s largest pineapple producer, followed by the United States, Thailand, Brazil, the Philippines, Mexico, Zaire, Ivory Coast, and Malaysia.

The pineapple plant has fleshy, overlapping leaves, sometimes with spiny margins, and an extensive root system. The leaves store water absorbed by specialized hairs on their clasping bases. The fruit, crowned by a cluster or leaves, is sweet and succulent when ripe. Most pineapple type produce seedless fruit that requires pollen from other plants to form seed. Varieties can be interbreed, the derivatives of the cultivar “Cayenne,” originating in Venezuela and improved in Europe, are the basis of most commercial crops.

Three or four years after the seed grown plant germinates, it forms a fruit at the top. When the fruit is cut off, smaller fruit grow on lower branches. Further cutting produces another crop of yet smaller fruits; these are usually used for juice, crushing, or dicing. New seed must be sown after this last crop. Vegetative propagation from the fruit crown or from suckers yields two crops in three years.

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