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The edibility of Wild Pineapple fruit varies person to person. Photo by Green Deane

Bromelia pinguin: Wild Pineapple

I took the picture above while out bicycling on a Christmas Day, 2008. But, didn’t identified the object de green until the next Thanksgiving.

Officially the United States Department of Agriculture says the Bromelia pinguin (bro-MEEL-ee-uh PIN-guin) does not grow in Florida, yet I have seen it thriving in three different untended places at least 40 miles apart, Mead Garden, West Orange Bike Trail at Ingram Road, and Colby Alderman Park southeast of Deland. What made it hard to identify was that it looked like three different plants. First guess was a Bromeliad. It also resembled a cactus, which did not help. It has stem spines pointing in two directions and I got several vicious wounds collecting samples. The fruit also looked like those of a pindo palm, but I was fairly sure it wasn’t a palm. All in all it was a conundrum.

Pineapple that doesn’t exist blossoming in April

After several false starts I was back where I started, in the Bromelaid family. It was a Bromelia pinguin. Then I ran into the usual language problem, but with a little twist. The larger family, Bromeliads, is named for Olaf Bromelius, a Swedish medical doctor and botanist. Bromelia, however, is from the Greek word meaning food, “broma.” Pinguin is from “penguis” Latin for stout or strong, a reference to using older leaves for cordage. While it is clever that the Bromelias are Bromeliads the names aren’t directly related. In Spanish its common name is pinuelo or pina salvaje. The natives called it karatas, and is often called wild pineapple. Many of the 48 different Bromelias have food uses.

Native to Central America it is cultivated and escaped in Florida, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico and Hawaii.  It has long leathery leaves arching about a yard high and five feet long. They are usually about 120 degrees from each other forming a spiral around the plant. The leaves act like troughs directing water and nutrients down to the center of the plant where they are absorbed. The water stored there is so acidic it eats mosquitos, adding more food for the plant. The leaves have savage hooked, sharp spines that can point toward the base of the plant or away. Each plant produces 10 to 75 yellow fruit on a spike, each with 30 to 50 shiny black seeds. Besides man and other large mammals they are the favorite food of the red land crab, karatas.

The ripe fruit, which clings like Hercules to the stalk, can be eaten raw or cooked and is used to make a tart drink but see the caution below.  I do not recommend eating it raw, or more specifically undiluted. The raw fruit can be extremely acidic and can burn the lip, tongue and throat. It needs to be diluted. The new leaves and flower stalks can be cooked like vegetables as can the flowers (with stinging hairs removed.)  Medicinally the juice of the fruit has been employed for many uses from treating intestinal parasites, fevers, oral ulcers and to induce abortions. Older leaves fibers have been used to make cloth, fishing line, nets and string.  A 100g sample of new growth is 92g water, 158 mg calcium, 50 mg phosphorus, 0.51 iron, 0.029 thiamine, 0.041 mg riboflavin, 0.382 niacin and 34 mg ascorbic acid.

The fruits of the B. nidus-puellae, B. alta  B. karatas, B. balansae, B. comosa B. plumieri, and B. chrysantha are also edible. The pineapple used to be in this genus.

One more note of caution: There might also be “meat tenderizer” in the juice of the Wild Pineapple. I know if I eat it my tongue and mouth feel fuzzy for an hour or so, as if chemically shaved. But I also know people who can eat them without any oral effect. I recommend being careful with the plant from an edible point of view. Other Bromelias respond well to roasting, perhaps these would.

Green Deane’s “Itemized” Plant Profile

IDENTIFICATION: A  pineapple-like plant with large sword-shaped dark green leaves with alternating curved spines on their edge.  It has many wooly red-orange flowers then elliptical yellow berries. The spines are vicious. Do not wade into a patch of Wild Pineapples.

TIME OF YEAR: Whenever in blossom or fruit. The plant flowers then fruits then dies

ENVIRONMENT: Prefers shade and well-drained soil.

METHOD OF PREPARATION: Flowers (stinging hairs removed) young shoots, stalk and core as a cooked vegetable. Fruits raw or cooked but I highly recommend not eating the fruit raw as it can be very acidic.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

mccorpsman January 11, 2017 at 12:46

I’ve been passing a huge growth of these for years – they’re on a public road that the county mows back every few months. I stopped yesturday to investigate. I found one fruit left on a plant – wasn’t bad. Perhaps a few days of cold weather make them better. I took lots of leaves home for cordage making. They make fantastic cordage; easy to keep a uniform thickness and easy enough to twist with both hands at the same time. I’m goint to pummel and dry enough to make a thumb-diameter rope and a small net (My name is Steve and I’m a cordageholic).

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Erin-Marie Wallace April 2, 2016 at 13:45

As an interesting aside, this plant, its friut & uses are mentioned in the book, The Swiss Family Robinson.
Of course, living in Florida, this makes me picture the plant growing at the base of the faux Swiss Family tree located in Disney world, Orlando, which gives me a little geeky chuckle.

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Mir March 16, 2016 at 09:52

My parents use this in Cuba as a fence and I love the fruit. They have to be very ripe or you get that burning/cutting sensation on your tongue. I read somewhere that the fruit contains calcium oxalate crystals and that is what causes the sensation. The plant is considered invasive in Cuba.

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LinusUppenshootus November 16, 2015 at 10:23

I saw some growing (and fruiting) in Gainesville, FLASH a few days ago. I had never seen them fruiting before. Just a couple of days later, I saw a picture of one on facebook, so I knew what they are called. To me, it seems odd that they can grow so far north since yt? Hey are from a tropical or subtropical area. We typically get hard freezes a year in this area.

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charee May 19, 2015 at 22:12

These are growing in my yard in Brandon southeast of Tampa. I have 2 huge colonies with numerous fruit. George in Australia. I am not sure I have seen seeds. They seem to propagate from suckers or roots. Maybe the catus/palm looking berries? We just purchased this property so this is first fruiting season.

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wilmer pineda November 2, 2016 at 23:15

Can you sale me some? ?? I live in greensboro fl pls contact me

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wilmer pineda November 23, 2016 at 11:52

Can you please sale me some??? If you Able.to ship.me.some.contact me …i.live in greenboro fl

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George April 9, 2015 at 08:27

Your help will appreciated……

George

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Joyce E Forager June 11, 2015 at 14:17

Try eBay. Look up “Bromelia pinguin seeds”. The Freaking Genius Plant Emporium sells them sometimes. Good luck.

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George April 7, 2015 at 07:19

Hi there friends I’m from Australia im looking to purchase Bromelia Penguin seeds, would anybody be so kind and guide me to where I can purchase this seeds……..many thanks george

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Jeffrey oneil January 26, 2016 at 15:56

Hello my names Jeff I farm all different exotic plants in my back yard and its fruiting season for me right now. You can email me at jeffreyolds84@gmail.com thanks and hope to hear from you soon

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ann March 5, 2015 at 18:17

I had one that is one yr later 2, nowa yr later 5, and they are beautiful, I didnt think of eating them, ty for that note . fyi I dug around it, brought the underground stem up accidentally, and it still grew. wont die , just reproduces, on top or under ground

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wilmer pineda November 2, 2016 at 23:07

Where can I buy this kind of plant in the usa? Can u pls help me out

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CathyA January 13, 2015 at 08:36

I have a colony of these I’d like to trim down. The underground parts, roots and stolens are very tough and hard to chop, not to mention those finger piercing spines. Started out as a few plants that took over an area. They’re growing on a slope next to my driveway in practically full sun. The ones I planted in the shade have never colored up and bloomed. Bloom time in central FL is April, fruit available April/May and it’s pretty consistent every year. Fruit hangs on forever. I tried one of them a couple of months ago and I got the fuzzy tongue. I’m wondering if the skin is the problem as I get burned lips trying to eat pineapple off the skin.

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Green Deane January 13, 2015 at 10:06

Haven’t thought about a physical difference between skin and pulp. The fruit gives me a fuzzy tongue as well.

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Chas October 19, 2013 at 19:54

Some months ago I bought a couple pineapples from the local fruit stand. Those pineapples were so acidic they burnt my tongue. I wound up blending them with bananas to make daiquiris because they were so acidic. My wife planted the discarded leafy parts of these pineapples in the yard. Now these wild pineapples have come up. The pinguin pineapples taste like the original only more acidic. Could they have grown from her planting?

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Erin April 19, 2013 at 16:46

There is a huge area with these in DeLand. They’ve been there for many years. I used to ride by these on the way to school for years. They are right on the edge of the road. They get trimmed back by the road crew periodically. I may stop and take a picture to share. Can you submit photos here?

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Joyce E Forager November 29, 2012 at 14:24

I found it today while walking my dog near Bumby Road in Orlando. I asked my friend to wait while I gathered a few fruits, squealing like an excited teenager: “Wow, this is one of the plants Green Deane showed us at Mead Gardens that’s not supposed to grow in Florida!” Now she is interested in foraging, and hopefully may attend a class. Thanks, Mr. Deane, for the great article on a plant that I might passed by without knowing its usefulness.

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Dave May 21, 2012 at 17:51

I see it in vero beach quit often

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Tanja May 21, 2012 at 15:28

I have TON of this if anyone wants it and lives near Tampa.

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Jeffrey oneil January 26, 2016 at 15:57

Do you still have them I would like them please email

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Gerald September 13, 2016 at 00:03

I have plenty and about to clear the area. Feel free to come get them before destruction, Tampa Ybor area.

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