A pineapple (Ananas comosus) posted on a door is a simple symbol of welcome. Many businesses and hotels, especially in Hawaii and the U.S. South, display the prickly skinned fruit to demonstrate their desire to serve. Residences also display pineapple-shaped door knockers and plaques to show goodwill to passersby. Although the pineapple's current symbolic meaning was clouded a bit over the years as it grew into a status symbol of wealth, it always has been associated with welcoming hospitality.
A pineapple carving on a door is an invitation to the home that symbolizes "Welcome."
The Old-World Debut
When Christopher Columbus "discovered" the Americas, he and his crew were the first explorers and colonizers of the Old World to encounter the prickly leaves and sweet fruits of the pineapple. Native to South America, the desirable fruit was carried to the Caribbean by travelers and traders long before Columbus' ships landed on the island of Guadeloupe's shores in 1493.
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Upon entering an empty habitation, the Europeans found a stockpile of harvested pineapples -- soon to become a new symbol of welcome -- next to pots of human remains (possibly an unwelcome find). An early forerunner of the pineapple door knocker, the Caribbean natives often left a pineapple or just the showy top of the fruit at the entrances to their domiciles as a welcome sign.
The pineapple made a lasting impression upon Europe with its sweetness, juiciness and unique looks. It was a food superstar, more heralded than the potato would be almost a century later. Gardeners were unsuccessful at cultivating the pineapple for many years, and everyone clambered to possess the "Princess of Fruits," nicknamed so by Sir Walter Raleigh. It wasn't until 1687 that Dutch naturalist and botanist Agneta Block was able to propagate a pineapple plant in her hothouse.
Colonial America and Pineapples
The new American colonies imported pineapples from their Caribbean neighbors. But even in the new land of plenty, the esteemed fruit was only for the wealthy, as many ship crossings were ill-fated and the pineapples often rotted while en route to the colonies.
Well-to-do hostesses included pineapple in the ornate food-art configurations at lavish soirees whenever possible. Sometimes, whole pineapples were rented for display at the dinner to save face. The pineapple came to symbolize power and prestige, and a feeling of welcome laced with a desire to be recognized as superior. The spotlighted pineapple embodied the gaiety of these gatherings, which served as a social outlet from the otherwise stark lives of the colonials.
As time went on, the display of pineapples returned to their original meaning, as a symbol of community and welcome. Inns and taverns would post pineapple motifs to communicate their offerings to weary travelers. Door knockers, weather vanes, fountains, gateposts, four-poster bedposts, stencils and nearly all architectural elements were soon graced with carved pineapples.
Sweet Pineapples for All
When growers were able to plant and harvest pineapples in the warm, frost free gardens of U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 through 11 and transportation methods improved with the advent of railroads, then the construction of interstate highways and the trucking industry, the sweet fruits became readily available to the average person.. The untold numbers of pineapple upside-down cakes devoured in the 1950s bear witness to the popularity of the fruit.
Today, pineapples are often featured on buffet tables as focal points and to symbolize plenty. With widespread access, the upper-class social status associated with the pineapple gradually fell away, but the sentiment remains: "Please come in."