[BoDD logo]


Google uses cookies
to display context-
sensitive ads on this
page. Learn how to
manage Google cookies
by visiting the

Google Technologies Centre

 ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼ ▼


 ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲ ▲

[BBEdit logo]




(Pineapple family)


Members of this family, natives of tropical America and the West Indies, number some 1400 species in 44 genera. Typically, they are spiny rosette-forming plants, many of which grow terrestrially, but most of which are epiphytes in their natural environment. Because of the peculiar arrangement of their leaves, many of the rosette-forming species in the tropics are often found associated with a varied fauna including ants, spiders, and scorpions (Wheeler 1942).

Several species produce edible fruits, the best known of which is the pineapple, from Ananas comosus Merrill, which is an important article of commerce.

Tillandsia usneoides L. is an unusual bromeliad. It hangs from branches in long grey festoons that resemble certain lichens. The plant is known by a variety of common names including long, Florida, Louisiana, or Spanish moss, old man's beard, and vegetable horsehair. It is used for stuffing pillows and similar such items (Willis 1973, Usher 1974).

Members of this family are occasionally grown as house or greenhouse plants. Most commonly grown are Aechmea Ruiz & Pav., Billbergia Thunb., and Vriesea Lindl. mut. Beer species.

The most likely hazard associated with members of this family is mechanical injury caused by the strong, sharp, curved spines that adorn the leaf edges of many species. In addition, persons coming into contact with the plant sap of some species may develop an irritant dermatitis from the proteolytic enzymes that are present. Tillandsia L. species in particular, when growing in the wild, may cause a pseudophytodermatitis when handled. This is because they provide nesting sites for ants which, depending on species, may bite or sting aggressively if the plant is disturbed.

Aechmea huebneri Harms

An herbarium specimen of this species was described as being a "small, wasp-inhabited plant" (von Reis & Lipp 1982).

Aechmea spicata Mart.

Ants nest among the aerial roots of this species in its natural habitat (Wheeler 1921).

Ananas comosus Merrill
[syns Ananas sativus Schult. f., Bromelia comosus Hill]

"Pineapple estate pyosis", occurring in workers who gather the fruits, probably represents an acarus infection with secondary bacterial infection (Simons 1953).

The raw fruit, when eaten in large quantity, produces a burning sensation of the lips and mouth (Watt & Breyer-Brandwijk 1962) and can also produce angular stomatitis (Fasal 1945).

Almost complete obliteration of the fingerprints by removal of the stratum corneum in workers employed in cutting up pineapples has been ascribed to the effects of pressure together with the keratolytic effect of bromelain, a protease found in the plant sap. A variety named Mauritius pineapple seemed to be most injurious. The nails were unaffected, in contrast to the nail damage that occurs in workers exposed to proteases of animal origin. Calcium oxalate and citric acid were excluded as causes of the skin changes. Moniliasis of the finger webs was occasionally observed in pineapple cutters (Polunin 1951).

The proteases in this species are glycoproteins and are related in their properties to papain. The different parts of the plant yield slightly different proteases, and each may be further fractionated into its constituent proteolytic enzymes. Thus, stem bromelain, fruit bromelain, and leaf bromelain have been studied (El-Gharbawi & Whitaker 1963, Murachi 1970, Daley & Vines 1978).

Pineapple fruits contain ethyl acrylate. Ethyl acrylate (4% in petrolatum) produced sensitisation in 10 of 24 subjects in a maximisation test (Opdyke 1975). A positive patch tests reaction to pineapple in a fruit handler (Morris 1954) cannot be interpreted in the absence of controls.

Ananas magdalenae Standley
[syn. Aechmea magdalenae André]

The strong sharp recurved hooks on the leaves can inflict mechanical injury (Allen 1943).

Bromelia balansae Mez

Bongiorno de Pfirter & Buttazzoni de Cozzarin (1976) isolated a protease named balansain from the fruit juice of this plant. Balansain was found to contain at least 6 constituent proteins, and to resemble papain in its properties.

Bromelia chrysantha Jacq.

If eaten without peeling, the fruit irritates the lips (Morton 1981).

Bromelia hemispherica Lam.
[syn. Karatas humilis É.Morren]


Bromelia karatas L.
[syn. Karatas plumieri É.Morren]
Maya, Wild Pinguin


Bromelia palmeri Mez


Bromelia sylvestris Willd.

Del Castillo & Castañeda-Agulló (1974) isolated the proteases hemisphericain, karatasain, palmerain, and sylvestrisain respectively from the above species. Each was found to consist of several component proteins.

Bromelia karatas is often grown as a barrier hedge, impassable by animals and humans (Morton 1981).

Bromelia pinguin L.

This species is often planted for hedges, its spiny leaves serving well to repel animals (Standley 1937a). Recurved hooks on the leaf margins can produce mechanical injury (Allen 1943, Oakes & Butcher 1962).

The fruit is eaten in Central America without ill effects other than mild irritation around the mouth on the upper part of the lips (Asenjo et al. 1944). The fruit juice is pleasantly acid, but produces a burning sensation when applied to the skin or lips, followed by peeling after a few hours (Asenjo & Capella de Fernandez 1942). Small painful ulcers readily developed within a period of 3–6 h on the fingertips of laboratory workers who handled the pulp of the fruit without rubber gloves. This was apparently the result of a combination of mechanical irritation caused by calcium oxalate raphides (of average size 108 µm in length and 5 µm in width) and subcutaneous injection of proteolytic enzyme (Asenjo et al. 1944).

A protease named pinguinain may be isolated from the fruit. In a Puerto Rican variety, pinguinain has been found to be a single compound (Toro-Goyco & Matos 1964), whilst in a Cuban variety is has been found to consist of at least two components (Messing 1961). Pinguinain is a glycoprotein that resembles papain in its properties, but is unusual in being very resistant to heat denaturation and has an optimum activity at 65°C (Toro-Goyco et al. 1968).

Karatas Mill.

The spines of the edible fruits can produce mechanical injury (Burkill 1935).

Nidularium myrmecophilum Ule

Ants nest amongst the aerial roots of this species in its natural habitat (Wheeler 1921).

Pitcairnia heterophylla Beer
[syns Hepetis heterophylla Mez, Puya heterophylla Lindl.]
Gallo del Diablo

[Information available but not yet included in database]

Tillandsia L.

The following species have been reported to provide, in their natural habitat, nesting sites for ants thus rendering them potential dermatological hazards:

Tillandsia balbisiana Schult.f.
Tillandsia benthamiana Klotzsch
Tillandsia bulbosa Hook.
Tillandsia butzii Mez
[syn. Tillandsia variegata Schldl.]
Tillandsia caput-medusae Morris
Tillandsia exigua Ule
Tillandsia fasciculata Sw.
Tillandsia flexuosa Sw.
[syn. Tillandsia aloifolia Hook.]
Tillandsia juruana Ule
Tillandsia paraensis Mez
Tillandsia utriculata L. 

Tillandsia species constitute the great bulk of the epiphytic flora in the West Indies (Wheeler 1942).


  • Allen PH (1943) Poisonous and injurious plants of Panama. American Journal of Tropical Medicine 23(Suppl): 3-76 [doi] [url] [url-2]
  • Asenjo CF, Capella de Fernandez MdC (1942) A new protease from Bromella pinguin L. Science 95(2454): 48-49
  • Asenjo CF, Goyco JA and Fernández MdC (1944) A note on the presence of calcium oxalate in the maya fruit. J. Am. Pharm. Ass., Sci. Ed. 33: 344-345.
  • Bongiorno de Pfirter GM and Buttazzoni de Cozzarin MS (1976) "Balansain": a new proteolytic enzyme separated from the fruit of Bromelia balansae Mez (Bromeliaceae). Revta Farm., B. Aires 118: 41-46. (Chem. Abstr. 86:39149)
  • Burkill IH (1935) A Dictionary of the Economic Products of the Malay Peninsula, Vols 1 & 2. London: Crown Agents [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Daley LS and Vines HM (1978) Pineapple (Ananas comosus L., Merr.) leaf proteinase. Pl. Sci. Lett. 11: 59-67.
  • Del Castillo LM and Castañeda-Agull M (1974) Proteinases of Mexican plants. II. Isoelectric points and characterization of multiple molecular forms in enzymes of Bromeliaceae. Revta Lat.-Am. Quim. 5: 243-248. (Chem. Abstr. 82:120701)
  • El-Gharbawi M and Whitaker JR (1963) Fractionation and partial characterization of the proteolytic enzymes of stem bromelain. Biochemistry 2: 476-481.
  • Fasal P (1945) Cutaneous diseases in the tropics. A clinical study based on observations in Malaya. Archives of Dermatology and Syphilology 51: 163-171.
  • Messing RA (1961) Isolation of electrophoretically pure pinguinain A. Enzymologica 23: 49-51.
  • Morris GE (1954) Dermatoses among food handlers. Industrial Medicine and Surgery 23(8): 343-344 [pmid]
  • Morton JF (1981) Atlas of Medicinal Plants of Middle America. Bahamas to Yucatan. Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas [WorldCat]
  • Murachi T (1970) Bromelain enzymes. Meth. Enzym. 19: 273-284.
  • Oakes AJ, Butcher JO (1962) Poisonous and Injurious Plants of the U.S. Virgin Islands. Miscellaneous Publication No. 882. Washington, DC: Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Opdyke DLJ (1975) Fragrance raw materials monographs. Ethyl acrylate. Food and Cosmetics Toxicology 13(Suppl.): 801-802.
  • Polunin I (1951) Pineapple dermatosis. British Journal of Dermatology 63(12): 441-455
  • Simons RDGP (1953) Jungle-dermatitis (dermatoses caused by tropical plants and woods). In: Simons RDGP (Ed.) Handbook of Tropical Dermatology and Medical Mycology. Vol. 2. pp. 1444-1452. Amsterdam: Elsevier Publishing Co.
  • Standley PC (1937a) Flora of Costa Rica, Part I. Publications of the Field Museum of Natural History, Botanical Series 18: 5-398 [url] [url-2]
  • Toro-Goyco E, Maretzki A and Matos ML (1968) Isolation, purification, and partial characterization of pinguinain, the proteolytic enzyme from Bromelia pinguin L. Archs Biochem. Biophys. 126: 91-104.
  • Toro-Goyco E and Matos M (1964) Purification of pinguinain by gel filtration. Nature, Lond. 203: 82-83.
  • Usher G (1974) A Dictionary of Plants used by Man. London: Constable [WorldCat] [url]
  • von Reis S, Lipp FJ (1982) New Plant Sources for Drugs and Foods from The New York Botanical Garden Herbarium. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press [WorldCat]
  • Watt JM, Breyer-Brandwijk MG (1962) The Medicinal and Poisonous Plants of Southern and Eastern Africa. Being an account of their medicinal and other uses, chemical composition, pharmacological effects and toxicology in man and animal, 2nd edn. Edinburgh: E & S Livingstone [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Wheeler WM (1921) A new case of parabiosis and the "ant gardens" of British Guiana. Ecology 2: 89-103.
  • Wheeler WM (1942) Studies on neotropical ant-plants and their ants. Part I. The neotropical ant plants. Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard 90(1): 3-154 [url] [url-2]
  • Willis JC (1973) A Dictionary of the Flowering Plants and Ferns, 8th edn. (Revised by Airy Shaw HK). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [WorldCat]

Richard J. Schmidt

[Valid HTML 4.01!]

[2D-QR coded url]