Here in Hawaii, pandanus fruit are sometimes called the “tourist pineapple” because they resemble pineapple closely enough that visitors sometimes mistake them for pineapples.
In reality, the pandanus tree is not related to the pineapple at all, although their fruits do have a bit of a resemblance to one another. There are many varieties of pandanus tree, but the only one that is reportedly indigenous to Hawaii is the pandanus tectorius, which is a tree that can grow as high as 50 feet and looks a little like a palm tree. It also has pretty cool roots that appear to lean up against the trunk, called “prop roots” because of the way they support the top-heavy weight of the leaves and fruit.
Pandanus fruit only grows on the female version of the plant. The male version, however, produces lovely fragrant flowers that make pollinating the female trees possible. The flesh of the ripe fruit is edible – like a pineapple, you have to get through the fruit’s tough exterior to the sweet edible part inside. Early Hawaiians used the fruit medicinally, to restore women who’d just given birth, as a laxative, and more!
Fibers from the pandanus tree are extremely useful. Throughout the years, Hawaiians called the plant hala, and used the fibers for thatched roofs, woven items like place mats and jewelry boxes, and even sails, pillows, mattresses, hats, purses, mats, sandals, and more. You can still buy many woven handicrafts made from pandanus in Hawaii to take home as souvenirs.
Pandanus fruit can also be used to make lei, although early Hawaiians did not give lei made from pandanus to others because it was seen as a gesture of malice. Today, that superstition is largely forgotten and it is possible to have a lei made from pandanus fruit.
So, when you’re out and about in Hawaii, and you see something that kind of looks like a pineapple but isn't, you’ll be a font of knowledge for whoever happens to be traveling with you!
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