Pineapples symbolize hospitality and welcome and as such are a favorite icon in home design and decor. This is not a new trend as it has been popular for hundreds of years!
In the 1600s when ships began returning from Central and South America carrying the tart golden fruit, the pineapple became a coveted item in households. The pineapple was rare and exotic, so to own one and display it showed your wealth and good taste.
Scroll down to read more about the first pineapples and what they symbolized and how it turned into the lovely home design element we love today.
Pineapple – The Origin Story
Pineapples are native to South America and are a type of bromeliad. They are a perennial and can grow up to almost five feet tall. The leaves are tapered and waxy and grow one fruit from multiple flowers that combine into the pineapple fruit you know. The pineapple, or ananas (the Tupi word meaning “excellent fruit”) was grown as a crop in South America as far back as 1200 BC.
Fun fact! Wild pineapples are pollinated by hummingbirds (and some by bats!) to produce seeds, but seeds make the fruit not so delicious. Industrially grown pineapple are pollinated by hand and in Hawai’i, where pineapples were grown and canned for over 100 years, hummingbirds were banned. Hummingbirds still do not exist in Hawai’i, but sadly the poor manager at the big box Hardware store on Maui didn’t know this. Reports from family there (a few years ago) tell the tale of the shelves full of hummingbird feeders on special at the store. Someone finally clued the manager in. Oopsies!
The Pineapple Arrives In Europe
Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to see the fruit and brought it back to Spain, calling it “piña de Indes” meaning “pine from the Indies” as they thought it resembled a pine cone. Europeans went a little nutty for the golden fruit and wanted more! They tried to grow it in their hothouses in England and France and Holland. This took a lot of energy to keep the plants at a tropical warmth (the fruit takes up to 18 months to mature) and because of this, only royalty and the super wealthy could afford to grow them, or attempt to anyway.
Charles II wanted everyone to know just how hip he was buy having this painting commissioned. In the painting we see his gardener presenting him with the (allegedly) first pineapple grown in England. Probably it was imported. (Shhhh, don’t tell Chuck!) (Also, it’s a bit tough to see the actual pineapple – click here for a larger version.)
Because the coveted fruit was so expensive, only wealthy people could afford to even just buy a pineapple. Of course they loved to show off their wealth so a pineapple would be the decorative centerpiece at a dinner, though not eaten at the dinner. The pineapple would be used over and over again until it was almost rotten, then they would eat it. Yum!
How much did this cost? According to Mental Floss, to purchase a pineapple in the 1700s cost around $8000 in today’s money. Holy cow, that is a lot of money! (Luckily you can buy a fresh one for about $5 in the grocery store today.) If you were unlucky enough not to be born into royalty or to even be very rich you could rent (RENT!) a pineapple to carry around with you to social occasions to show how wealth-adjacent you were.
Since only the super rich could afford the glory of pineapples, they became the symbol of luxury and wealth. And as renting pineapples was out of most people’s budgets, the image itself became a popular motif on dishes and teapots and other household decor such as table linens and wallpaper. People would carve pineapple images into their stairwell newel posts and over doorways to show their good taste and welcoming hospitality, no matter their income level. Some have gone so far as to build entire structures to look like giant pineapples!
The Pineapple In The 20th Century
Thanks to James Dole (recognize that name?) the pineapple became an affordable treat. (No renting!) He built up his plantation and became a huge success, selling 75% of the world’s pineapple from one island’s plantation alone over the course of 25 years. But late in the last century (The 1900s) growing pineapple in southeast Asia became the most financially viable business with pineapples growing mainly in Thailand, the Philippines and Brazil.
Back in Hawai’i’s pineapple heyday:
The two major varieties commercially important in the United States are the Smooth Cayenne, from Hawaii, and the Red Spanish, mainly from Florida and Puerto Rico. The golden-yellow skinned Cayenne is longer and more cylindrical and has long, swordlike leaves sprouting from a single tuft, while the reddish golden-brown skinned Red Spanish is squatter in shape, and has leaves radiating from several tufts. (from the New World Encyclopedia.) (“Smooth Cayenne” is an excellent LatinX rap name, if you in the market for one.)
Over five hundred years ago, having a pineapple rotting on your dining room table was the highest status symbol of wealth and good taste. Amazing that the fruit itself was less important than the visual impact of it. Who cares what it tasted like just come and look at the very expensive THING I have on my table! (And how good could it have tasted after spending days or weeks on display after coming across the Atlantic on a sailing ship?) What does impress us here at All Things Pineapple is that after all this time, all these centuries, the symbol of the pineapple is still popular. You can buy a fresh one at a grocery store for not very much money and cans of the sweet fruit for even less. But the pineapple on wallpaper and plates and teapots and table linens is still incredibly popular and still says “Welcome! Enjoy our fine hospitality and good taste.”
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