An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of March 31, 2008
issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO


In the transition zone between weedy, hacked-over scrub down below and open oak forest higher up a conspicuous member of the Bromelia Family appeared. You may remember the abundandant bromeliads gracing tree limbs at Yerba Buena in the Chiapas uplands. The species encountered on Cerro de Cruz Grande differed from those species both by being terrestrial and by growing much larger. You can see ours


This is Piñuela (pee-nyoo-EH-la), BROMELIA PINGUIN. In the picture Andrés is holding in his hand the thing that makes the plant famous in these parts: Some tasty fruits. You can see a close-up of the fruits below:

Piñuela fruits, BROMELIA PINGUIN

Piñuelas were common in the scrub back in the Yucatan and I always wanted to sample a fruit but never got to. I thought my failure to find a fruit was because I always left the Yucatan before the fruits ripened but now I suspect it was because I didn't know you had to dig down into the leafy debris gathered in the plant's center, as shown in the first photo. Andrés knew exactly where to thrust his hand into the clutter, though, and came up with fruits his first try.

Before anything is done with the fruits you need to thoroughly brush or wipe off the rusty-brown, very thin, sharp hairs visible in the fruit picture mantling both ends of the fruits. If a hair lodges in your lips or tongue it stings for a long time. The fruits are a little like small bananas, in the sense that you must peel off the tough covering to get at the sweet interior. Piñuelas can be cooked in campfire embers but they're also good raw. Andrés warns to not eat more than one, though, because if you do you'll develop burn-blisters, same as if you eat too much pineapple.

In fact, Piñuelas are closely related to Pineapple plants. Both are in the Bromelia Family and both are among the small minority of terrestrial bromeliads. The Piñuela fruit tastes a bit like pineapple, but contains hard seeds.

In August, 2008, near the Maya village of Sabacché about 40 minutes southeast of Mérida, Don Vicente shows me how to reach into a Piñuela just like Andrés did for the above photos in Chiapas, to pull out the fuzz shown at the right.

"If you're gathering firewood and you cut yourself so that the blood just runs down your arm," he said, "you go collect this fuzz. Spread it over your cut as if it were a bandage, and it'll stop the bleeding."

In the scrub around Sabacché Piñuelas are abundant, but in August, the middle of the rainy season, there are no fruits, just the soft fuzz.