The Banaan Tree is a tropical herbaceous perennial (and not really a true tree) from the family Musaceae. They are native to Southeast Asia, China, Madagascar and Africa. Forty million years back, bananas were native to North America as far north as Oregon.
There are 3 genera of peanuts; Ensete, Musa, and Musella. These genera are commonly cultivated in warm, wet regions between the equator and 30N/S. The cold tolerant taxa come from high elevation locations in the tropics. The family Musaceae is closely associated with other famous ornamental tropicals like Bird-of-Paradise (Strelitziaceae), Canna Lily (Cannaceae), the tropical gingers (Zingiberaceae) and Heliconia (Heliconaceae).
Bananas are cultivated as a food for 4,000-10,000 years in tropical locations. However, Europeans were unaware of the fruit before they began exploring the world during the Age of Discovery from the 1500’s. Edible bananas weren’t introduced to America until 1876 throughout the Philadelphia World Exposition. Today there are several hundred cultivars of edible bananas grown around the world. However, since the 1960’s, just 1 cultivar was used to generate the yellow dessert bananas eaten in the U.S. and Europe; Musa acuminata’Cavendish’. The ‘Cavendish’ banana is a sterile triploid. It produces fruit in the absence of pollination (parthenocarpy) and therefore doesn’t have any seeds. Most edible bananas belong to Musa acuminata or to Musa balbisiana (or are hybrids between). Hybrids are given the species name Musa paradisiaca. Along with the sweet dessert types, there are starchy, unsweet cooking bananas that are employed in a fashion similar to how Americans use potatoes. These cooking bananas are sometimes called plantains and are generally boiled, baked, or fried. In America, we normally call the sweet fruits (which are eaten raw) bananas, and the fruits (that has to be cooked) plantains. Musa and Ensete might be eaten in different ways too. The Chinese consume the immature male blossom and several cultures use the rhizomes and the stem as food or fodder. Bananas may also be dried and eaten as a processor or ground into flour. Bananas are the 4th largest fruit crop in the world behind apples, citrus, and grapes and are a staple food in some areas of the world.
The age of the ‘Cavendish’ banana might be coming to an end. Over the past few years a fungal pathogen named Panama disease (Fusarum oxysporum f. sp. Cubense) Tropical Race 4 has evolved which strikes and kills’Cavendish’ plants. It’s wiped out’Cavendish’ in just about all of Asia. There’s absolutely no known preventative or cure for this and it spreads extremely quickly. If the fungus ever reaches Central America, the monoculture’Cavendish’ farms which provide the U.S. is going to be decimated. Ironically it was a distinct race of the exact same disease that enabled the’Cavendish’ to become so well known in the first location. ‘Cavendish’ replaced the sweeter and larger’Gros Michael’ banana in the 1950’s that was also wiped out by a race of Panama disease. There’s currently no substitute for the’Cavendish’ banana that’s tolerant of Panama disease and has the all the traits that American consumers need. The next best option is a cultivar known as’Goldfinger’ that is much less sweet and has a minor tart-apple flavor. However, the best long term solution isn’t to replace one monoculture crop with another monoculture crop, but instead to embrace the s ustainable practice of eating and growing numerous cultivars of banana.
Bananas also have non-food uses. Ensete and Musa banana stalks and leaves are used for their own fibers. The course fibers are known as manilla hemp and are utilized to make rope and paper. The fine fibers are used to create high quality fabric called banana fabric. Banana leaves are watertight and are frequently utilized to wrap food for cooking or storage. The Fehi group of peanuts. Grown in Polynesia are utilised to make a reddish dye (which will also turn your urine red if you eat them). Bananas are used by specific cultures to treat medical ailments like bronchitis, ulcers, diabetes, hemorrhoids (do not ask me how!) , and diarrhea among other things. Central Americans collect the sap of the red banana and take it as an aphrodisiac (although this could be a fallacy. . .or is it’phallacy’) while the Hindus regard the plant as a symbol of fertility and set the fruits and leaves on the doorstep of newlyweds. In the 60’s it was popular to smoke banana peel because of its alleged hallucinogenic affects (what did not they smoke back then?) But the original newspaper story (The Berkeley Barb, March 1967) that reported this trend was a hoax that fooled the country.
Bananas are such a significant and rewarding food crop which the companies that produce them (primarily United Fruit Company, known today as Chiquita and the Standard Fruit Company, known today as Dole) have grown tremendously powerful. Their influence on Central American politics has lead to the expression’Banana Republic’ (coined by the writer O’Henry in his 1904 book Cabbages and Kings) that is a pejorative term for a small, shaky, nation run by wealthy, corrupt elites who encourage the manipulation of land and people for inexpensive banana production by taking bribes and kickbacks from the banana companies.