Though native to South America, pineapples (scientific name: Ananas comosus) made their way to the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, and it was here that Christopher Columbus first spotted their spiky crowns in 1493. Columbus and his crew took pineapples back to Spain, where everyone loved how sweet this new, exotic fruit tasted. They tried to grow them there, but because pineapples need a tropical climate to grow, Europeans didn’t get very far. The only pineapples they could get their hands on had to be imported from across the Atlantic Ocean, a time-consuming trek that often resulted in bruised, rotten fruit.
Later, in the mid 17th century, pineapples were grown in a few hothouses in England and the Netherlands, in conditions that mimicked the warm temperature and humidity levels needed to produce the fruit. Because they were in high demand and low in supply, only the extremely wealthy could afford pineapples. Monarchs such as Louis XV, Catherine the Great, and Charles II (who even commissioned a painting of his gardener presenting him with a pineapple) enjoyed eating the sweet fruit, and pineapples came to symbolize luxury and opulence.
In the American colonies in the 1700s, pineapples were no less revered. Imported from the Caribbean islands, pineapples that arrived in America were very expensive—one pineapple could cost as much as $8000 (in today’s dollars). This high cost was due to the perishability, novelty, exoticism, and scarcity of the fruit. Affluent colonists would throw dinner parties and display a pineapple as the centerpiece, a symbol of their wealth, hospitality, and status, instantly recognizable by a party’s guests. Pineapples, however, were mainly used for decoration at this time, and only eaten once they started going rotten.
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