How does your garden grow?
By Eric Danell, Dokmai Garden
At present we have a generous crop of
pineapples (Ananas comosus, Bromeliaceae) at Dokmai Garden. To the great
surprise among our Thai visitors, the pineapple is not originally native to
Thailand. It comes from eastern South America, somewhere in the upper Paraná
in Brazil. The first historically documented Eurasian encounter was on the
island Guadeloupe on November 4th, 1493, when Christopher Columbus made his
second voyage. The fruit had reached the Spanish Philippines by 1558 and was
probably brought to Thailand by the Portuguese. One of the oldest cultivars
of pineapple still cultivated in Thailand is ‘Si la cha’ which is a cooking
Another cultivar with relatively smooth leaves is ‘Nang lae’ (=’Nam pung’).
It was introduced from China to the Nang lae district in the Chiang Rai
province and has become a great hit as a superior dessert pineapple.
Although small and round, its perfect balance of acid and sugar and its
amazing aroma makes it a choice fruit. It belongs to the ‘Cayenne group’ of
Another more modern cultivar is ‘Phuket’. It has painfully serrated leaves
and grows much larger and cylindrical than the round ‘Nang lae’. This
cultivar is suitable for desserts as well as cooking. The cooking aspect
must not be underestimated. Not only delicious, but a protease tenderizes
raw meat if pineapple is used in a marinade. It belongs to the ‘Queen group’
The cross between ’Phuket’ and ‘Nang lae’ has resulted in another
appreciated but still serrated variety called ‘Phu lae’. It is small and
round with elegant taste. According to molecular studies, ‘Phuket’ and ‘Phu
lae’ are in fact the same cultivars, not a cross, but may show different
morphology due to different methods of cultivation. ‘Phu lae’ is found in
the adjacent Chiang Rai province.
Unlike the apple, the domesticated pineapple does not need pollination to
set fruit, which is the dream of a farmer (no worries about climate for
perfect insect pollination) and the consumer (no seeds to spit). However, if
two strains flower near each other, and if a hummingbird (in South America)
or a sunbird (Thailand) flies around to collect nectar, there is a chance of
cross pollination. If a farmer collects the tiny seeds he may create new
If you grow pineapples here in the Chiang Mai valley, make sure the land has
full sun and is well drained. The leaf rosettes are designed in a way to
collect water, and sometimes pineapples can become swimming pools for
mosquito larvae. Frogs will take care of that. Do not plant the pineapples
too densely, or serrated strains will be a nightmare to weed if you wear
shorts. Plant the pineapples in pairs with generous space (at least one
meter) between the double rows to allow weeding from both sides. A row of
pairs, especially if the variety has serrated leaves, will become a
sanctuary for small vulnerable birds and amphibians which otherwise succumb
to cats and dogs. This is of course in a small scale farm with a mosaic of
crops and ornamental plants. Replacing vast tracts of rain forest with
endless hillsides of pineapple is a biodiversity desert.
The pineapple family, Bromeliaceae, is a large plant family: 2650 species
almost entirely confined to the Americas. Many are epiphytic, and in the
Chiang Mai gardens you can discover impressive bromeliad collections. The
genus ‘Bromelia’ was coined by Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), and the French
botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836) used this name to erect the
family Bromeliaceae. The name is in honour of the Swedish
naturalist/physician Olaus Bromelius (1639-1705). The pineapple genus
‘Ananas’ was coined by the Scottish botanist Philip Miller (1691-1771), head
gardener of the Chelsea Physic Garden. ‘Ananas’ is the Latinized form of
‘nanas’, a Tupi word for ‘delicious fruit’. There are six species of Ananas
in the world. www.dokmaigarden.co.th. [email protected]
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