A Prickly Tale: The History of Pineapples in Florida

Cube it, slice it, shred it, juice it, grill it, cook it. Pineapples are a delicious treat or compliment to any dish. Today, many people think of Hawaii as the pineapple capital of the United States, but did you know pineapples were cultivated in Florida before Hawaii was even a U.S. territory?

Florida pines

Florida pineapples


The earliest pineapple cultivation in Florida started in Key West in the 1860s. Benjamin Baker, known as “King of Wreckers” for his engagement in the business of salvaging ships, grew pineapples on Plantation Key, typically shipping them by schooner to New York, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Around the same time, a Mr. Brantley was producing pineapples on Merritt Island.

Pineapples being transported on a sailboat.

Pineapples being transported on a sailboat (Between 1890 and 1910)

By 1899, the industry had expanded rapidly, thanks in part to the southward extension of the Florida East Coast Railway. Pineapple plantations could be found across Florida, including in Lee, Volusia and Orange counties. Despite freeze issues, there were an estimated 1,325 acres of pineapple plantations in Florida, producing 95,442 crates of fruit.

Pineapple field in Winter Haven (Between 1880 and 1900)

Pineapple field in Winter Haven (Between 1880 and 1900)

 

Pineapples in transport - Volusia County, Florida (191-)

Pineapples in transport – Volusia County, Florida (191-)

Though the industry seemed to be on the rise, troubles began around 1908. Although Florida growers produced over 1.1 million crates of pineapples that year, Cuba produced 1.2 million crates and flooded the market. Cuba could also ship pineapples at a cheaper rate than Florida.  And there was more…

In 1910, portions of crops along Indian River plantations began to show signs of failing. A “red wilt” was rotting the roots of the pineapple plants, causing them to die. The disease quickly spread to entire fields. Add to that a lack of proper fertilizer due to World War I in Europe and freezes in 1917 and 1918, and the industry seemed to have disappeared.

R.A. Carlton, an agricultural agent for the Seaboard Air Line railway attempted to revive pineapple production in Florida in the 1930s, but the industry was never able to fully recover.

 

George S. Morikami and Al Avery holding prize pineapples

George S. Morikami and Al Avery holding prize pineapples (1966)

What is your favorite way to enjoy a delicious pineapple? Tell us about it by leaving a comment!

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27 thoughts on “A Prickly Tale: The History of Pineapples in Florida

  1. A few months ago,after a trip to Hawai’i where I learned how pineapples are grown, I planted the top of a pineapple that I bought at a supermarket. I live in North Florida and wondered if pineapples would grow in Florida. Mine has, although I can see that I’ll have to keep it in a pot and protect it from the cold. Hope to have a baby pineapple in about 3 years.

    • Cut the top off the Pineapple and make sure there is NO FRUIT left attached. Then strip the leaves off one by one till you have a 3/8″ stub. You will even see growths that look like roots. Plant in very sandy dirty and water every other day for the first two week. It will grow like hell, the cold won’t bother it and you will get one pineapple a year for three years off on plants…mr.g Florida native and pineapple grower for years!

      • Awesome info for a struggling gardener in Jensen Beach, which was known for world renowned pineapples “back in the day”!

    • We live in North Florida. My son planted the top of a pineapple OUTSIDE and it grew us two small pineapple fruit. (We never brought it indoors once). These plants can grow here (again, outdoors) and the information on the internet that says they cannot is incorrect.

  2. I grow mine own, have about a dozen fruiting plants in my yard in south Brevard County. One way I like them is to purée the fruit, mix in some coconut, and dehydrate it into piña colada fruit leather.

  3. In the 1870 -1890s pineapples were grown on Chokoloskee Island as a main crop by my Santini family. My great grandfather father would put them on his boat and take to Key West or north sometimes to the Tampa area.

  4. P.R. Also has a fine pineapple production area. It has been consistently profitable for over 100 years. Cuba’s production is virtually non existent today.

  5. An interesting side story about the above photo featuring George S. Morikami. He was Japanese and had a farm near Delray Beach, FL. When World War II started he was sent to a concentration camp like other Japanese and following the war his farm never recovered. The land was donated to Palm Beach County, FL and has become a Japanese culture center. Google Morikami Gardens. The property is also home to The American Orchid Society headquarters.

  6. I also knew some of the family members of the Merritt Island pineapple farmers in Titusville, FL. The family later grew gladiolas flowers.

  7. I lived in Hawaii in 1958 and started 1st grade in Honolulu. My brother worked for Dole pineapple and brought one home every day. In 2007 I visited Mauri and they delivered to my townhouse a pineapple every day for my stay, felt like home.

  8. Clarification on George Morikami: neither he nor the other Japanese colonists at Yamato, Florida, were placed in camps during WWII, although their freedoms were severely limited. By that time they no longer were growing pineapples. Morikami continued to farm until he died at age 89 in 1976. As the first director of Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, I got to eat one of the last pineapples George grew. Also, the American Orchid Society moved to Miami’s Fairchild Gardens almost a decade ago.

    • Where do you read that pineapples are native to Florida? Do you have another source? The link you shared specifically says the fruit was introduced in 1860 and says nothing of it being native to Florida.

  9. We grow pineapples in our yard and harvested 7 this summer. Harvested gingerly because the leaves are spiny. Can’t imagine walking thru a field of pineapples and cutting the fruit off its thick stem. Ouch!

  10. I have grown pineapples from tops for the past 5 years here in south Florida. The harvest is very sweet due to their ripen on the plant 🍍

  11. Bottom line; Florida was economically priced out the market by large commodity plantations and distribution systems. There are plenty of local growers to support by asking questions when purchasing food. Check for alternative markets where there are local growers, not just vendors.

  12. Growing up in Miami in the 50’s all you had to do was drive north on NW 7th Avenue to Dania to see miles and miles of pineapple plantations. They were on both sides of the road as far as you could see.

  13. My great grandfather bought a pineapple “plantation” in the later 1800’she on his way to walk across the isthmus of Panama to get to the California gold rush. My grandfather would go down as a teen to work it. It was later (around 1900) given to him as a wedding gift. He took his new bride there for their honeymoon. She made him give it back!

  14. Pineapple seems to be the easiest things to grow in St. Pete. Fl. I do just as Mark Ramsey in the comments said except I twist the tops off the pineapple not cut them off and I let the severed end dry for a few days before putting it into soil. Otherwise they rot on me before taking root. This year I had a delicious pinapple on every mature plant I have. The plants are also very ornamental planted in the right places. I have them as border plants near hedges that line the property line

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