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Sharon Huebner, age 12, of El Paso, Texas, for her question:

WHERE DID THE PINEAPPLE ORIGINATE?

Pineapple is a tropical plant that, is know for its juicy, fragrant fruit. It most likely received its name because the fruit looks a lot like a large pine cone. The pineapple plant was probably domesticated in the high plateaus of central South America. It was widely planted in the Caribbean for its fiber before Christopher Columbus arrived.

After the Europeans settled the area, pineapple cultivation spread to warm regions around the globe. Colonists even took it to Hawaii, where it thrived. Today, almost a third of the world's pineapple crop and more than 60 percent of canned pineapple products come from Hawaii.

In Hawaii, large scale production of pineapple didn't start until the early 1900s. Shortly before that it had also been introduced in Australia, the Azores and South Africa.

Florida began to produce pineapples in the 1860s and grew more pineapples than Hawaii until about 1914.

Today, after Hawaii, which is No. 1 on the list of the world's chief pineapple producers, are the following, listed in order of importance: Brazil, Malaysia, Taiwan, Mexico, the Philippines, Thailand, South Africa and Australia.

The pineapple belongs to the bromeliad family. The plants need a warm climate and well drained soil. Too much water can harm them, but irrigation is necessary in some dry regions.

Plants grow from two to three feet tall and the fruit weighs from four to eight pounds. The ripe fruit has a yellowish brown shell, or thick skin. At the top of the fruit is a group of small leaves called the crown. The flesh of the fruit, the part eaten by people, is firm and pale yellow. The most widely grown kind of pineapple, called Smooth Cayenne, is seedless, but some varieties have small brown seeds beneath the shell.

The plant has underground roots and also small roots that grow above the ground.

When the pineapple plant is from 14 to 16 months old, a flower stalk with tiny flowers attached called an inflorescence appears in the center. The inflorescence looks like a tiny pink red cone. After the inflorescence has grown about two inches high, blue violet flowers begin to open. Each flower blooms for only one day. All the flowers open within 20 to 30 days.

Each flower develops into a fruitlet. The fleshy parts of the fruitlets unite with the stalk to which they were attached. This combination of fruitlets and stalks forms the yellow center of the pineapple. The pineapple's shell develops from thick, hard, leaflike structures called floral bracts.

About 20 months after planting, the pineapples are ready to be picked. A pineapple plant bears one fruit for the first harvest and may bear two fruits for the second or third harvest.

Most planters replant fields after every two or three harvests.

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