Charleston has several emblems with which it is identified and make up its character. The history, Rainbow Row, The Holy City, the beaches, the architecture, the forts, the art, the ghosts, the plantations…..on & on & on! However, the two most predominant symbols of the city are the Palmetto Tree & The Pineapple.
The pineapple is on homes, gates, gardens, entry walls – everywhere. Pineapples are delicious and pretty – but surely that cannot be why they are a hallmark of the city. I wanted to research this pineapple craze!
While I already knew about the excellent health benefits of and the origin of the fruit, I did learn some interesting things about the Pineapple. There is a great deal of information and history about it, and I mean a ton. I will only highlight the bits I found to its symbologic connection to Charleston, because otherwise I would have to write a college style thesis on it!
I learned the the Pineapple and the Pine Cone share their symbolism mainly because the root words/scientific names are connected – but you can also see it in the shape of them.
In general, The Pine Cone & Pineapple symbolize fertility, which is easily figured by the fact that they are the “reproductive organs” of their respective parent plants. This was imperative for the Pineapple’s symbolic placement in the art or in the homes of kings. It made the transition from fertility to affluence and power through its display by those in power.
The pineapple took on significance when Christopher Columbus brought it to Europe after his second voyage. It was found to be an excellent food for sailors as it kept well. It is high in vitamin C and nutrients to battle off scurvy and other illnesses. The pineapple also became a great trade for sailors. Out of all this, the Pineapple began being the symbol for welcoming & hospitality. Being a versatile fruit with many ways to serve, eat, and decorate only added in its hospitable meaning.
In early Christian art of the 1500s & 1600s, pineapples symbolized prosperity & eternal life. Becoming, then, a huge symbol for the Colonized America; welcome, prosper, worship as you will.
Charleston is a port city with history dating back to 1670, home of many forts, battles, trade, and tourism. The Pineapple had a great mix of the above mentioned symbolism here: 1) Christianity 2) Affluence 3) Welcoming
Interestingly enough, the “Welcoming” part came in two parts here in Charleston. The first was the seafaring captains (apparently this was done in seaport cities in Caribbean, Europe, and Colonial America) would impale fresh pineapples outside of their porches or garden gates when they returned from sea. This would let others know that the man of the house was back for a time. He would display that he had souvenirs of his travels and was Master of the House. From that came the idea that any home willing to welcome travelers or military during their time in Charleston; either for a warm meal or a night of boarding. The good Christian thing to do, to be hospitable … especially if you were from an affluent family! See how it all comes back around?!
So – the pineapple became associated with trade, the return of ships from extended voyages, an emblem of welcome and hospitality that made its way into great food, home decor, art, and more! At this time of Christmas celebrating & welcoming friends and family, the birth of Christ, elaborate meals and gift giving – well, what a great time to learn about the prosperity and warmth of the Pineapple.