Nothing says “Hawaii” like pineapple. A cooking segment on national television yesterday featured pineapple recipes as part of a luau theme. And yet, even while living in Hawaii, I learned three things about the fruit when I visited the Dole Pineapple Plantation.

First: Pineapples do not grow on trees.

Until then, my closest encounter with a pineapple was from a can or in the produce section of a grocery store. Even after moving to Hawaii, I found pineapples at the weekly Farmer’s Market. (They were a product that I could identify without photos from the Farmers Market Cookbook.)

When my sister visited from the mainland, we stopped at the Dole Pineapple Plantation on our tour of Oahu. I was introduced to pineapples in the wild — on short bush-like plants. Not only were they much closer to the ground than I imagined, they also came in many varieties. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that pineapples come in different types, like apples, but I always equated the name with a standard yellow icon. Twenty varieties are grown in a display garden near the entrance with helpful nameplates.

Second: Pineapples are not native to Hawaii.

The plantation has a series of signs that tell the history of pineapple in Hawaii. Although the fruit seems almost synonymous with Hawaii, it is not native to the islands. In fact, the Hawaiian name for pineapple means “foreign fruit” (halakahiki). Wandering around the pineapple display garden and reading the signs is free and, for me, the most interesting part of the stop (except maybe getting a photo of my sister and me with our heads stuck through a board so it looks like we’re in a pile of pineapple, also free – and priceless for embarrassing our children).

Third: Sometimes you learn more as a tourist than as a local.

I would not have driven out to the plantation on my own – at least partly because I now think that driving 30 miles is SO FAR AWAY (a consequence of living on an island). But there is a lot of information presented in an entertaining manner aimed at visitors who are interested in Hawaii but don’t know a lot about it. Sometimes, that’s more valuable than an authentic “local” experience.

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