Is Pineapple an Apple?

It’s May 1, and we’re at church. The service has just started, and our Youth RE Minister comes to the lectern to announce what the children are going to be doing today. “The pre-kindergarten class will be celebrating Lei Day,” she announced, dropping a pun on the congregation, “and they’ll be eating bananas and pineapple.”

Now my son’s excited, because those are two of his favorite fruits. “Pineapple and banana!” he repeats over and over, bouncing in his seat.  “Pineapple and banana!”  Then he looks up at me and, as if it’s just occurred to him, asks “are pineapples an apple?”

I’m relatively certain the answer is “no”, but it’s a good question.

What is a pineapple?

The pineapple is a tropical plant originally native to southern Brazil and Paraguay. It was domesticated by Native Americans and spread by them throughout Central and South America, Mexico, and the West Indies well before the arrival of Christopher Columbus.

The plant itself is

…a terrestrial herb 2 1/2 to 5 ft (.75-1.5 m) high with a spread of 3 to 4 ft (.9-1.2 m); a very short, stout stem and a rosette of waxy, straplike leaves, long-pointed, 20 to 72 in (50-180cm) 1ong; usually needle tipped and generally bearing sharp, upcurved spines on the margins. The leaves may be all green or variously striped with red, yellow or ivory down the middle or near the margins. At blooming time, the stem elongates and enlarges near the apex and puts forth a head of small purple or red flowers, each accompanied by a single red, yellowish or green bract. The stem continues to grow and acquires at its apex a compact tuft of stiff, short leaves called the “crown” or “top”. Occasionally a plant may bear 2 or 3 heads, or as many as 12 fused together, instead of the normal one.

The spiky, pinecone-looking part of the pineapple is the fruit. Interestingly, the primary pollinator of the pineapple is hummingbirds – domestic pineapples cultivated in regions without these birds must be pollinated by hand.

What is an apple?

First of all, I just need to say that my first attempt to research “Apple” online led me to nothing but information about the technology company. I actually had to specify “apple fruit” in my search to get apples. Good grief.

Anyway, you probably know what apples are.  They are the fruit of deciduous trees originally native to Central Asia, and they are part of the Rosaceae family – the same family as roses. By he tree general stands

…1.8 to 4.6 m (6 to 15 ft) tall in cultivation and up to 39 ft (12 m) in the wild.  When cultivated, the size, shape and branch density are determined by rootstock selection and trimming method. The leaves are alternately arranged dark green-colored simple ovals with serrated margins and slightly downy undersides.

Are they related?

Not to any significant degree, no – a fact that shouldn’t be too surprising, since pineapples are native to South America and apples are native to Central Asia.

Apples are Malus domestica (regardless of variety), part of family Rosaceae, which is part of order Rosales, which is part of kingdom Plantae.  Pineapples are Ananas comosus, part of family Bromeliaceae, which is part of order Poales, which is part of kingdom Plantae.

So, yeah. You have to go way back on the phylogenetic tree to find a common ancestor.

Where did the names come from?

All of this begs the question:  if they’re not at all related (beyond both being plants), and they look nothing alike, why on earth do they have such similar name so?  Did Christopher Columbus get drunk and think they were apples that grew on pine trees or something?

Well, no.

The Spanish did call them piña (pine cone), because of their resemblance to pine cones. They also called them ananá, which came from the Tupi word nanas, meaning “excellent fruit”.

Honestly?  I think the Tupi had the right idea.