Orange County Chapter CRFG

Sharing Information on Growing Edible Plants

by Alfredo Chiri

BANANA - Musa spp. - Musaceae
Varieties: "Cavendish," "Dwarf Orinoco," "Gold Finger," "Ice Cream," "Lady Fingers," "Mysore-Plantain," (r.f.-01)
Common names: Anana, Banana, Platano, Cambur, Curro 

Bananas stalks are popularly referred to as "trees" because they attain heights of thirty feet or more. They are not trees in the correct sense of the term, but large perennial herbs that reach their full growth in one season. The banana is one of the largest known plants without a woody stem or trunk. It is really a giant "shoot."

What appears to be a solid stalk or trunk of the plant is actually only a hollow sheath of leaves, a succulent, very juicy stem (a pseudo-stem) which is a cylinder of petiole sheaths arising from a fleshy rhizome or core. Through this tubular stalk a stem or spike shoots up and bears the flowers. At first it is a large, oval, purple bud. As it opens, first one can see the female tubular white flowers clustered in whorls in double rows along the floral stalk. From these the berries (fruits) will form. Then hermaphroditic flowers appear next, producing small, undeveloped, and useless fruits. Lastly the male flowers open. Once the stalk has fruited, it will not produce again so it should be cut off to provide more room for the shoots.

Bananas are propagated from suckers or "pups" that sprout from buds along the underground bulb or corm. A good sucker of some varieties could fruit in as little as 9 months under optimum conditions, but it would probably take 16 months. In banana talk, the oldest sucker becomes the fruiting plant and is called the "stalk." The suckers are called "pups," and the very small shoots are called "buttons." Suckers spring around the main plant to form a clump. The oldest sucker replaces the main plant when it has fruited and then died. The leaves unfurl at the rate of one per week in the warm weather. The flower is a terminal spike shooting out from the heart of the stem.

The fruit, botanically called a berry, is usually harvested when mature in size but green. Each bunch is composed of a number of clusters, known to the fruit trade as "hands." Very often the stalk is cut and hung in the garage, and the bananas are harvested from it as they ripen "hand-by-hand."

Bananas are grown today in every humid tropical region. Bananas require as much warmth as can be given, like planting them next to a building. Bananas will grow in most soils but they thrive in the richest soil possible and prefer acid soil. They like a lot of water but can not take flooding. They have a high nitrogen and phosphorus requirement; an 8:10:8 NPK fertilizer will be adequate.

Plantains are varieties that are grown for cooking, either green or ripe. They are starchy and have lower moisture content than bananas. Plantains are not as "cold-hardy" as most banana varieties. Ripe plantains are good in breads or cakes and don't turn dark like regular bananas