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Banana plant
Banana plant
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Liliopsida
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Musaceae
Genus: Musa
Hybrid origin; see text
A banana plant is a herb in the genus, Musa, which because of its size and structure, is often mistaken for a tree. It is cultivated for its fruit, which also bears the same name. Bananas are of the Family Musaceae and closely related to plantains. Globally, bananas rank fourth after rice, wheat and maize in human consumption; they are grown in 130 countries worldwide, more than for any other fruit crop. Bananas are native to tropical southeastern Asia.The main or upright growth is called a pseudostem, which when mature will obtain a height of 2–8 m (varies by cultivar), with leaves of up to 3.5 m in length. Each pseudostem produces a single bunch of bananas, before dying and being replaced by a new pseudostem. The base of the plant is a rhizome (known as a corm). Corms are perennial, with a productive lifespan of 15 years or more.The term banana is applied to both the plant and its elongated fruit (technically a false berry) which grow in hanging clusters, with up to 20 fruit to a tier (called a hand), and 5-20 tiers to a bunch. The total of the hanging clusters is known as a bunch, or commercially as a "banana stem", and can weigh from 30–50 kg. The fruit averages 125g, of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter content. Bananas are a valuable source of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and potassium.In 2003 India led the world in banana production, representing approximately 23% of the worldwide crop, most of which was for domestic consumption. The four leading banana exporter countries were Ecuador, Costa Rica, Philippines, and Colombia; accounted for about two thirds of the worlds exports; with each exporting more than 1 million tons. Ecuador alone provided more than 30% of global banana exports according to FAO statistics.Bananas are classified either as dessert bananas (meaning they are yellow and fully ripe when eaten) or as green cooking bananas/plantains. Almost all export bananas are of the dessert variety; however, only about 10-15% of all production is for export, with the US and EU being the dominant buyers.Bananas and plantains constitute a major staple food crop for millions of people in developing countries. In most tropical counties green (unripe) bananas used for cooking represent the main cultivars. Cooking bananas are very similar to potatoes in how they are used. Both can be fried, boiled, baked or chipped and have similar taste and texture when served. Nutritionally one green cooking banana has about the same nutritional and calorie content as one potato.The vast majority of producers are small-scale farmers growing the crop either for home consumption or for local markets. Because bananas and plantains will produce fruit year-round, they provide an extremely valuable source of food during the hunger season (that period of time when all the food from the previous harvest has been consumed, and the next harvest is still some time away). It is for these reasons that bananas and plantains are of major importance to food security.

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Pests and diseases
Effects of banana diseases in East Africa
Popular culture

History - Contents

Banana bunch
Banana bunch
The domestication of bananas took place in southeastern Asia. Many species of wild bananas still occur in New Guinea, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Recent archaeological and palaeoenvironmental evidence at Kuk Swamp in the Western Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea suggests that banana cultivation there goes back to at least 5000 BC, and possibly to 8000 BC. This would make the New Guinean highlands the place where bananas were first domesticated. It is likely that other species of wild bananas were later also domesticated elsewhere in southeastern Asia.The banana is mentioned for the first time in written history in Buddhist texts in 600 BC. Alexander the Great discovered the taste of the banana in the valleys of India in 327 BC. The existence of an organised banana plantation could be found in China in 200 AD. In 650 AD, Islamic conquerors brought the banana to Palestine. Arab merchants eventually spread bananas over much of Africa. The word "banana" has its root in the Arabic word "banan", which means "finger" and bananas are mentioned in the Qur'an.In 1502, Portuguese colonists started the first banana plantations in the Caribbean and in Central America. As late as the Victorian Era, bananas were not widely known in Europe, although they were available via merchant trade. Jules Verne references bananas with detailed descriptions so as not to confuse readers in his book Around the World in Eighty Days (1872).

Properties - Contents

'Cavendish' bananas
'Cavendish' bananas
Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colours; most cultivars are yellow when ripe but some are red. The ripe fruit is easily peeled and eaten raw or cooked. Depending upon cultivar and ripeness, the flesh can be starchy to sweet, and firm to mushy. Unripe or "green" bananas and plantains are used in cooking and are the staple starch of many tropical populations.Most production for local sale is of green cooking bananas and plantains, as ripe dessert bananas are easily damaged while being transported to market. Even when only transported within its country of origin, ripe bananas suffer high rate of damage and loss.The commercial dessert varieties most commonly eaten in temperate countries (species Musa acuminata or the hybrid Musa x paradisiaca, a cultigen) are imported in large quantities from the tropics. They are popular in part because being a non-seasonal crop they are available fresh year-round. In global commerce, by far the most important of these banana cultivars is ' Cavendish', which accounts for the vast bulk of bananas exported from the tropics.It is common for fruit exports to be dominated by a single or very few cultivars. The most important properties making 'Cavendish' the main export banana are related to transport and shelf life rather than taste; major commercial cultivars rarely have a superior flavour compared to the less widespread cultivars. Export bananas are picked green, and then ripened in ripening rooms when they arrive in their county of destination. These are special rooms made air-tight and filled with ethylene gas to induce ripening.The flavour and texture of bananas is affected by the temperature at which they ripen. Bananas are refrigerated to between 12 and 14 °C (54 and 57 °F) during transportation [1]. At lower temperatures, they spoil and turn grey.Bananas are normally shipped to supermarkets when they are still partially green, however, a banana is considered ripe and ready for eating when it is fully yellow, and speckled with small brown spots. Sometimes bananas will bypass the ripening room, and show up at the supermarket still fully green; these almost never ripen into quality fruit, if they ripen at all. Banana chips are a snack produced from dehydrated banana slices. These dried bananas have a dark brown colour and an intense banana taste. Bananas have also been used in the making of jam. However unlike other fruits, bananas are difficult to extract juice from because when compressed a banana simply turns to pulp.In addition to the fruits, the flower of the banana plant (also known as banana blossom or banana heart) is used in Southeast Asian, Bengali and Kerala (India) cooking, either served raw with dips or cooked in soups and curries. The tender core of the banana plant's trunk is also used, notably in Burmese, Bengali and Kerala cooking.Banana leaves are large, flexible, and waterproof; they are used in many ways, including as umbrellas and to wrap food for cooking. Chinese zongzi and Central American tamales are sometimes steamed in banana leaves, and the Hawaiian imu is often lined with them.Seeded bananas (Musa balbisiana), considered to be one of the forerunners of the common domesticated banana, are sold in markets in Indonesia.225 grams (1 cup) of banana has 806 mg of potassium (23% of Recommended Daily Allowance), 200 Calories, 6 g dietary fiber, and 19.6 mg of vitamin C (33% of RDA).

Trade - Contents

Women in Belize sorting bananas and cutting them from bunches.
Women in Belize sorting bananas and cutting them from bunches.
Bananas are among the most widely consumed foods in the world, and the only fruit to appear amongst the top ten most consumed food crops. Most banana farmers receive a low price for their produce as supermarkets have leveraged their size to negotiate lower year-round contract prices for bananas. Supermarkets have reduced their margins in recent years which in turn has led to lower prices for growers. Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole and Fyffes grow their own bananas in Ecuador, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. Banana plantations are capital intensive and demand high expertise so the majority of independent growers are large and wealthy landowners of these countries. This has led to bananas being available as a " fair trade" item in some countries.The banana has an extensive trade history beginning with the founding of the United Fruit Company (now Chiquita) at the end of the nineteenth century. For much of the 20th century, bananas and coffee dominated the export economies of Central America. In the 1930s, bananas and coffee made up as much as 75 percent of the region's exports. As late as 1960, the two crops accounted for 67 percent of the exports from the region. Though the two were grown in similar regions, they tended not to be distributed together. The United Fruit Company based its business almost entirely on the banana trade, as the coffee trade proved too difficult for them to control. The term " banana republic" has been broadly applied to most countries in Central America, but from a strict economic perspective only Costa Rica, Honduras, and Panama were actual "banana republics" – countries with economies dominated by the banana trade.The countries of the European Union have traditionally imported many of their bananas from the former European island colonies of the Caribbean, paying guaranteed prices above global market rates. As of 2005 these arrangements were in the process of being withdrawn under pressure from other major trading powers, principally the United States. The withdrawal of these indirect subsidies to Caribbean producers is expected to favour the banana producers of Central America, in which American companies have an economic interest.

Cultivation - Contents

Banana Corms
Banana Corms
While the original bananas contained rather large seeds, triploid (and thus seedless) cultivars have been selected for human consumption. These are propagated asexually from offshoots of the plant. The plant is allowed to produce 2 shoots at a time; a larger one for fruiting immediately and a smaller "sucker" or "follower" that will produce fruit in 6–8 months time. The life of a banana plantation is 25 years or longer, during which time the individual stools or planting sites may move slightly from their original positions as lateral rhizome formation dictates. Latin Americans sometimes comment that the plants are "walking" over time.Cultivated bananas are sterile ( parthenocarpic), meaning that they do not produce viable seeds. Lacking seeds, another form of propagation is required. This involves removing and transplanting part of the underground stem (called a corm). Usually this is done by carefully removing a sucker (a vertical shoot that develops from the base of the banana pseudostem) with some roots intact. However, small sympodial corms, representing not yet elongated suckers, are hardier to transplant and can be left out of the ground for up to 2 weeks; they require minimal care and can be boxed together for shipment.

Pests and diseases - Contents

While in no danger of outright extinction, in the next 10-20 years the most common edible banana cultivar the 'Cavendish' could become unviable for large-scale cultivation. The predecessor to 'Cavendish', the cultivar 'Gros Michel', has already suffered this fate. 'Cavendish' is an extremely popular fruit in Europe and the Americas; unfortunately, like almost all bananas, it lacks genetic diversity which makes it vulnerable to diseases such as:
Inspecting bananas for fruit flies.
Inspecting bananas for fruit flies.
  • Panama Disease (Race 1) – fusarium wilt (a soil fungus). The fungus enters the plants through the roots and moves up with water into the trunk and leaves, producing gels and gums. These plug and cut off the flow of water and nutrients, causing the plant to wilt. Prior to 1960 almost all commercial banana production centered on the cultivar 'Gros Michel', which was highly susceptible to fusarium wilt. The cultivar 'Cavendish' was chosen as a replacement for 'Gros Michel' because out of the resistant cultivars it was viewed as producing the highest quality fruit. More care is required for shipping the 'Cavendish' banana and some argue that the 'Gros Michel' tastes better.
  • Tropical Race 4 - a reinvigorated strain of Panama Disease. A virulent form of fusarium wilt that has wiped out 'Cavendish' in several southeast Asian nations. It has yet to reach the Americas; however, soil fungi can easily be carried on boots, clothing, or tools. This is how Tropical Race 4 moves from one plantation to another and is its most likely route into Latin America. Unfortunately it is currently resistant to all known fungicides.
  • Black Sigatoka - a fungal leaf spot disease first observed in Fiji in 1963 or 1964. Black Sigatoka (also known as Black Leaf Streak) has spread to banana plantations throughout the tropics due to infected banana leaves being used as packing material. It affects all of the main cultivars of bananas and plantains, impeding photosynthesis by turning parts of their leaves black, and eventually killing the entire leaf. Being starved for energy, fruit production falls by 50% or more, and the bananas that do grow suffer premature ripening, making them unsuitable for export. The fungus has shown ever increasing resistance to fungicidal treatment, with the current expense for treating 1 hectare exceeding US00 per year. In addition to the financial expense there is the question of how long such intensive spraying can be justified environmentally. Several resistant cultivars of banana have been developed, but none has yet received wide scale commercial acceptance due to taste and texture issues.
  • Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) - this virus is spread from plant to plant by aphids. It causes stunting of the leaves resulting in a "bunched" appearance. Generally, a banana plant infected with the virus will not set fruit, although mild strains exist in many areas which do allow for some fruit production. These mild strains are often mistaken for malnourishment, or a disease other than BBTV. There is no cure for BBTV, however its effect can be minimised by planting only tissue cultured plants (In-vitro propagation), controlling the aphids, and immediately removing and destroying any plant from the field that shows signs of the disease.
These four diseases represent the main threats to both commercial cultivation and the small-scale subsistence farming of bananas.Even though it is no longer viable for large scale cultivation, 'Gros Michel' is not entirely extinct, as it is still grown in some areas where Panama Disease is not found. Likewise, 'Cavendish' is in no danger of complete extinction, but there is a possibility that it could leave the shelves of the supermarkets for good if disease winnows the harvest down to where it can no longer hope to supply the global market. It is unclear if any banana cultivar currently existing could replace 'Cavendish' on a scale needed to fill current demand, so various hybridisation and genetic engineering programs are working on creating a disease-resistant, mass-market banana.

Effects of banana diseases in East Africa - Contents

Tanzanian farmers with 92kg bunch of FHIA-17 bananas.
Tanzanian farmers with 92kg bunch of FHIA-17 bananas.
Most bananas grown worldwide are used for local consumption. In the tropics, bananas, especially cooking bananas, represent a major source of food, as well as a major source of income for smallholder farmers. It is in the East African highlands that bananas reach their greatest importance as a staple food crop. In countries such as Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda per capita consumption has been estimated at 450kg per year, the highest in the world. Ugandans use the same word "matooke" to describe both banana and food.In the past, the banana was a highly sustainable crop with a long plantation life and stable yields year round. However with the arrival of the Black Sigatoka fungus, banana production in eastern Africa has fallen by over 40%. For example during the 1970s, Uganda produced 15 to 20 tonnes of bananas per ha. Today production has fallen to only 6 tonnes per ha.The situation has started to improve as new disease resistant varieties have been developed such as the FHIA-17 (known in Uganda as the Kabana 3). These new varieties taste different from the traditionally grown banana which has slowed their acceptant by local farmers. However, by adding mulch and animal manure to the soil around the base of the banana plant, these new varieties have substantially increased yields in the areas where they have been tried.The Rockefeller Foundation has started trials for genetically modified banana plants that are resistant to both Black Sigatoka, and banana weevils. It is developing varieties specifically for smallholder or subsistence farmers.

Popular culture - Contents

The depiction of a person slipping on a banana peel has been a staple of physical comedy for generations. A 1906 comedy record produced by Edison Records features a popular character of the time, "Cal Stewart", claiming to describe his own such incident, saying:
I don't think much of a man what throws a bananer peelin' on the sidewalk, and I don't think much of a bananer what throws a man on the sidewalk, neether. ... my foot hit that bananer peelin' and I went up in the air, and cum down ker-plunk, and fer about a minnit I seen all the stars what stronomy tells about, and some that haint been discovered yit. Wall jist as I wuz pickin' myself up a little boy cum runnin' cross the street and he sed "Oh mister, won't you please do that agin, my mother didn't see you do it".
Bananas are one of the most popular fruits among people of all origins. However, because of the stereotypical image of monkeys and apes eating bananas, they have been used as a means for racist insults, such as throwing bananas at sports players of African descent. Bananas are also humorously used as a phallic symbol (a metaphor for the human penis) due to similarities in size and shape.An urban legend states that the dried skin of the banana fruit is hallucinogenic when smoked. Unlike many such legends, the origin of this one has been traced. It dates back to an article in the student newspaper Berkeley Barb in March 1967, which got the story from the singer Country Joe McDonald. This was brought to attention once more in the late 1980s, when the satiric punk group The Dead Milkmen released a song concerning the effects of smoking banana peels. Even the FDA investigated.This legend is not entirely without merit. The darkening of ripening bananas, proceeding from yellow, to brown, to black, is mainly due to large amounts of serotonin (an important human neurotransmitter), which is produced from tryptophan in banana peels. While this property would seem to implicate bananas as a natural antidepressant, such is not the case since, upon ingestion, serotonin is immediately broken down by enzymes in the stomach (particularly monoamine oxidase). Similarly, serotonin is unsuitable for smoking (due to its high melting point (213 °C)), and instead decomposes into toxic gases (carbon and nitrogen oxides) during combustion. Additionally, it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier.See also banana republic.
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