Science: Hormones for Plants

Portuguese growers in the Azores knew a century ago that burning wood in their hothouses made the pineapples ripen quicker. (It was the ethylene gas in the wood smoke.) Following the principle, Hawaiian pineapple-growers have long been dropping pellets of calcium carbide into the hearts of their yucca-like pineapple plants. Moistened by dew, the pellets give off acetylene (similar to ethylene) which makes the plants bear earlier.

Hawaii's pineapples normally ripen only during three summer months—a short season which puts a costly strain on harvest labor and canneries. Acetylene helped a little, but not enough. Recently, some growers have switched to the...

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