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The IncrEdible Bromeliad Roundabout

Tilly Jones
24 July 2013

At the top of the Broadwalk by the Palm House pond you can enjoy an unusual summer display of Bromeliads as a part of Kew’s celebration of edible plants.

Bromeliads edible?!

At first glance you may not think many of these plants to be edible, but one in particular has been titillating our taste buds since Christopher Columbus sailed the oceans many centuries ago: the pineapple! Otherwise known as the King of Fruits, Pine of the Indies, or in latin Ananas comosus.

The lesser known edible members of the bromeliad family include Tillandsias, whose plumose seeds can be used as a natural chewing gum. The leaves of Tillandsia rubella and Tillandsia maxima are eaten in Bolivia where their leaves are peeled and eaten like a stick of celery. Bromelia balansae and Puya hamata have historically been used in South America to produce a potent alcoholic beverage similar to the Mexican Tequila. In Brazil native Indians use the leaves of Bromelia lacinosa, boiling them down to make a flour high in calcium called ‘macambira’. In addition, the berry-like fruit of many species of bromeliad are recorded to be edible, having a juicy citrus-like taste.These include species such as Bromelia balansae, Aechmea bracteata, and Neoregelia concentrica, all found in Kew’s living collections.


Neoregelia 'King of Kings', with Ananas 'Corona'


The Design

Kew’s Bromeliad expert, Marcelo Sellaro, and I designed and built the Bromeliad display. Using a selection of some of the more hardy species, we have dotted plants amongst rocks and boulders to try and recreate the feel of a typical bromeliad environment.


Photo of the Bromeliad Roundabout

Kew's Bromeliad roundabout outside the Palm House


One of the biggest challenges with displaying bromeliads outdoors in the UK is not necessarily the wet and cold temperatures, but the fluctuation in temperatures from day to night, and in this year’s case from day to day. Our variable summer has proved difficult at times in maintaining healthy plants, especially as our display runs from April to September, but since our recent heat wave things are springing into life and even bursting into flower.

History of the King of Fruits

Brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus in 1493 from the Caribbean, the pineapple was an immediate hit and became a highly sought after commodity among the high society of Renaissance Europe. As a symbol of wealth and hospitality the pineapple was top of the list of accessories when organizing a big party. Due to their high price tag individual fruits would be rented out to households to use in table displays only to be handed back at the end of the night and moved on to the next event.


Photo of Bromelia balansae

Bromelia balansae


Having pineapples in your garden became not only a sign of wealth, but also demonstrated that you had a gardener of the utmost skill and experience. Gardeners across Europe attempted to grow the prized fruit for their employers. Unfortunately the cold wet climate of Northern Europe was far from suitable, and so began the task of creating the first artificial growing environment for plants.

Initially pineapples were grown in horse manure in individual wooden cases with stoves to heat them from below. This method was fairly successful and kick started an interest is growing tender plants from far flung countries.

So, it was from our taste for the pineapple, and desire for the exotic, that the idea and inspiration grew to develop heated growing environments for plants. Over many years this has evolved into the large scale glass houses we see today.


- Tilly -



IncrEdible festival attractions

Tutti Frutti Boating Experience

Take a ride on the Tutti Frutti Boating Experience with Bompas & Parr and enter the secret banana grotto, beneath Pineapple Island!

Food and Drink

Taste our Amazing ice-cream, take part in the IncrEdibles Tasty Trail, enjoy an IncrEdibles Barbeque, sample ales, beers and ciders from around the country, and more ...

Family Fun

Join in the Rose Garden Tea Party, get the little ones' faces painted, and more ...

IncrEdibles Attractions

Explore the The Global Kitchen Garden, discover something tasty in the Tropical larder, pick up spicy chilli recipes at the Flavour Fiesta, and more ...

priority booking for Kew the Music

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1 August 2013
The pineapple is one of my favourite type of fruit, so I really enjoyed this article - and finding out that there are more edible Bromeliads, certainly whith quite a different taste though. I wonder.. - how much did a pinapple cost back in the days when they were rented out for exotic displays? Did they look very much like the pineapples you buy at the supermarket today or were they possibly smaller? Thanks again for this article, a very enjoyable read and great story!

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