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The pineapple in history

Julia Buckley
16 August 2013

Kew's IncrEdibles festival presented the Illustrations Team with a fabulous opportunity to search Kew's collections of botanical illustrations to find references for the royal fruit whose image dominates Kew this summer - the pineapple - as librarian Julia Buckley explains.

Pineapples in the Illustrations Collection

The Illustrations Collection is a real treasure trove and it is always fascinating to uncover the visual resources held for a particular plant. It was exciting to identify the various representations of fruits and imagine the context in which these illustrations and live specimens were received.

As the centrepiece of the festival is the Tutti Frutti boatride under an enormous model pineapple, it was only natural that we should search for illustrations of this exotic fruit.

The pineapple (Ananas comosus). appeared in Europe in the late 16th century, though Christopher Columbus records it in his travels a century earlier. The exact origins of the pineapple are uncertain except that it was cultivated in South America. Ham House holds a painting from 1675 of Charles II being presented with a pineapple by Rose, the Royal Gardener, painted by Hendrick Danckerts. But it was not until the 18th century that pineapples became more successfully grown in Britain when stove houses were employed for their production.


An image of Bromelia ananas from Joseph Plenck’s Viennese publication ‘Icones Plantarum Medicinalium (1788-1812)

Originally the preserve of the wealthy, the pineapple became the celebrated centrepiece of some of the most glamorous 18th century dining tables. The fruit’s geometric form and exotic appeal lent itself to architectural decoration and it featured in garden ornamentation and adorned many gateposts as a symbol of hospitality.

Illustration of Amboin Rumphius

Pineapple illustration in the ‘Herbarium Amboinense’ (1741-55), a book by the Dutch botanist Rumphius

On a tentative search, references told us that one of the earliest pineapple illustrations in the Collection at Kew appears in ‘Herbarium Amboinense’ (1741-55), a book by the Dutch botanist Rumphius on the flora of Amboyna in the Dutch East Indies. This engraving is a good reference for the visual characteristics of the fruit but fails to conjure up the same excitement and vivacity of the vibrantly coloured illustrations by the Swiss-German artist Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717).

Illustration of Merian

Merian’s illustration of a pineapple for ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium

Merian’s illustrations for ‘Metamorphosis Insectorum Surinamensium – The Transformation of the Insects of Surinam’ documented the insects, flowers and fruits of the Dutch colony of Surinam in South America. Merian illustrated many economically valuable plants at a time when the Dutch East India Company was expanding its trading interests. Voyages of exploration and commerce encouraged the documentation of new plants and there was a surge of interest in exotic flora. 

Pineapples in Kew's Library, Art and Archives

Kew’s Library, Art & Archives also surrendered some beautiful engravings by the renowned 18th Century illustrator Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770). This colourful illustration of ‘Ananas aculeatus’ appeared in Christoph Jacob Trew’s ‘Plantae Selectae’ of 1750-53. Ehret was one of the most respected illustrators of his day and Trew’s patronage gave him access to many of the exotic plants being cultivated at the time.

Illustration of Ehret

Pineapple illustration by Georg Dionysius Ehret (1708-1770)

Elizabeth Twining (1805-89) created an elaborate composition of the pineapple set amongst other members of the Bromeliaceae family. While Twining’s composition is artistic it is also botanically valuable, featuring cross-sections of part of each plant. Twining was the granddaughter of the tea merchant Richard Twining and her illustrations featured in the publication ‘Illustrations of Natural Orders’ (1849-55).

Pineapples in the Marianne North Gallery

The artist Marianne North was prolific in her illustrations of flora from across the world and the wild pineapple features amongst the paintings displayed in her Gallery at Kew. The guide to the Marianne North Gallery describes it as ‘Wild Pine Apple in Flower and Fruit, Borneo’ – the guide notes that ‘The Pine Apple (Ananas sativus, Mill.var.) is believed to be really indigenous only in Brazil, whence it has spread to other countries, in some of which it has become naturalised and wild’.

Marianne North 232

‘Wild Pine Apple in Flower and Fruit, Borneo’ by Marianne North

Tutti Frutti

The pineapple continues to capture the imagination of botanists, horticulturalists and artists alike and rightly features as the centrepiece in this year’s IncrEdibles festival. Its position in pride of place in front of Kew’s Palm House harks back to the celebrated status of its past, and this fruit of kings finds a fittingly grand and striking contemporary representation in the work of Bompas and Parr.

- Julia Buckley –


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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2 September 2013
Dear Marion, Thank you for your message. I’m glad that you like the illustrations of pineapples – I think that they successfully capture the splendour of this fruit. I was very interested to read your blog and find out about the unusual wedding gift of tinned pineapple to the Queen and Prince Philip. I really enjoyed your story of the 1840s dinner table where a rented pineapple was prised from the arms of a guest who was keen to take it as a souvenir! It certainly makes you appreciate how lucky we are to have ready access to this fruit today. Best wishes, Julia
20 August 2013
Lovely paintings of the fruit. If you're interested (and they don't lend themselves to painting, except perhaps by Warhol) there's a history to tinned pineapple too. Queensland's official wedding gift to the Queen in 1947 was 500 tins of pineapple. Details in my blog here -

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