Banana, Bananier Nain, Canbur, Curro, Plantain
Edible bananas originated in the Indo-Malaysian region reaching to
Musa acuminata Colla, M. X paradisiaca L. (hybrid)
Abyssinian Banana (Ensete ventricossum Cheesman), Musa
balbisina Colla, M. ornata Roxb., M. textilis Nee
Bananas and plantains are today grown in every humid tropical region and
constitutes the 4th largest fruit crop of the world. The plant needs 10
- 15 months of frost-free conditions to produce a flower stalk. All but
the hardiest varieties stop growing when the temperature drops below
53° F. Growth of the plant begins to slow down at about 80° F and stop
entirely when the temperature reaches 100° F. High temperatures and
bright sunlight will also scorch leaves and fruit, although bananas grow
best in full sun. Freezing temperatures will kill the foliage. In most
areas bananas require wind protection for best appearance and maximum
yield. They are also susceptible to being blown over. Bananas,
especially dwarf varieties, make good container specimens if given
careful attention. The plant will also need periodic repotting as the
old plant dies back and new plants develop.
Bananas are fast-growing herbaceous perennials arising from underground
rhizomes. The fleshy stalks or pseudostems formed by upright concentric
layers of leaf sheaths constitute the functional trunks. The true stem
begins as an underground corm which grows upwards, pushing its way out
through the center of the stalk 10-15 months after planting, eventually
producing the terminal inflorescence which will later bear the fruit.
Each stalk produces one huge flower cluster and then dies. New stalks
then grow from the rhizome. Banana plants are extremely decorative,
ranking next to palm trees for the tropical feeling they lend to the
The large oblong or elliptic leaf blades are extensions of the sheaths
of the pseudostem and are joined to them by fleshy, deeply grooved,
short petioles. The leaves unfurl, as the plant grows, at the rate of
one per week in warm weather, and extend upward and outward , becoming
as much as 9 feet long and 2 feet wide. They may be entirely green,
green with maroon splotches, or green on the upper side and red-purple
beneath. The leaf veins run from the mid-rib straight to the outer edge
of the leaf. Even when the wind shreds the leaf, the veins are still
able to function. Approximately 44 leaves will appear before the
The banana inflorescence shooting out from the heart in the tip of the
stem, is at first a large, long-oval, tapering, purple-clad bud. As it
opens, the slim, nectar-rich, tubular, toothed, white flowers appear.
They are clustered in whorled double rows along the the floral stalk,
each cluster covered by a thick, waxy, hood like bract, purple outside
and deep red within. The flowers occupying the first 5 - 15 rows are
female. As the rachis of the inflorescence continues to elongate,
sterile flowers with abortive male and female parts appear, followed by
normal staminate ones with abortive ovaries. The two latter flower types
eventually drop in most edible bananas.
The ovaries contained in the first (female) flowers grow rapidly,
developing parthenocarpically (without pollination) into clusters of
fruits, called hands. The number of hands varies with the species and
variety. The fruit (technically a berry) turns from deep green to yellow
or red, and may range from 2-1/2 to 12 inches in length and 3/4 to
2 inches in width. The flesh, ivory-white to yellow or salmon-yellow,
may be firm, astringent, even gummy with latex when unripe, turning
tender and slippery, or soft and mellow or rather dry and mealy or
starchy when ripe. The flavor may be mild and sweet or subacid with a
distinct apple tone. The common cultivated types are generally seedless
with just vestiges of ovules visible as brown specks. Occasionally,
cross-pollination with wild types will result in a number of seeds in a
normally seedless variety.
Bananas require as much warmth as can be given them. Additional warmth
can be given by planting next to a building. Planting next to cement or
asphalt walks or driveways also helps. Wind protection is advisable, not
for leaf protection as much as for protection of the plant after the
banana stalk has appeared. During these last few months propping should
be done to keep the plant from tipping or being blown over.
Bananas will grow in most soils, but to thrive, they should be planted
in a rich, well-drained soil. The best possible location would be above
an abandoned compost heap. They prefer an acid soil with a pH between
5.5 and 6.5. The banana is not tolerant of salty soils.
The large leaves of bananas use a great deal of water. Regular deep
watering is an absolute necessity during warm weather. Do not let plants
dry out, but do not overwater. Standing water, especially in cool
weather, will cause root rot. Plants grown in dry summer areas such as
Southern California need periodic deep waterings to help leach the soil
of salts. Spread a thick layer of mulch on the soil to help conserve
moisture and protect the shallow roots. Container grown plants should be
closely watched to see that they do not dry out. An occasional deep
watering to leach the soil is also helpful.
Their rapid growth rate make bananas heavy feeders. During warm weather,
apply a balanced fertilizer once a month--a 8:10:8 NPK fertilizer
appears to be adequate. A mature plant may require as much as 1-1/2 to
2 pounds of the above fertilizer each month. Young plants need a quarter
to a third as much. Spread the fertilizer evenly around the plant in a
circle extending 4 - 8 feet from the trunk. Do not allow the fertilizer
to come in contact with the trunk. Feed container container plants on
the same monthly schedule using about half the rate for outside plants.
Bananas flourish best under uniformly warm conditions but can survive
28° F for short periods. If the temperature does not fall below 22° F
and the cold period is short, the underground rhizome will usually
survive. To keep the plants that are above ground producing, protection
against low temperatures is very important. Wrap trunk or cover with
blanket if the plants are small and low temperatures are predicted.
Only one primary stem of each rhizome should be allowed to fruit. All
excess shoots should be removed as soon as they are noticed. This helps
channel all of of the plant's energy into fruit production. Once the
main stalk is 6 - 8 months old, permit one sucker to develop as a
replacement stalk for the following season. When the fruit is harvested,
cut the fruiting stalk back to 30 inches above the ground. Remove the
stub several weeks later. The stalk can be cut into small pieces and
used as mulch.
Propagation of bananas is done with rhizomes called suckers or pups.
Very small pups are called buttons. Large suckers are the preferred
planting material. These are removed from vigorous clumps with a spade
when at least three feet tall, during warm months. Pups should not be
taken until a clump has at least three to four large plants to anchor
it. When the pup is taken the cut must be into the mother plant enough
to obtain some roots. Plant close to the surface. Large leaves are cut
off of the pup leaving only the youngest leaves or no leaves at all.
Some nurseries supply banana plants as container grown suckers.
Pests and Diseases:
Bananas have few troublesome pests or diseases outside the tropics. Root
rot from cold wet soil is by far the biggest killer of banana plants in
our latitudes. California is extremely fortunate in not having nematodes
that are injurious to the banana. Gophers topple them, and snails and
earwigs will crawl up to where they can get continuous water, but these
pests do not bother the plant.
Stalks of bananas are usually formed in the late summer and then winter
over. In March they begin "plumping up" and may ripen in April.
Occasionally, a stalk will form in early summer and ripen before cold
weather appears. The fruit can be harvested by cutting the stalk when
the bananas are plump but green. For tree-ripened fruit, cut one hand at
a time as it ripens. If latter is done, check stalk daily as rodents can
eat the insides of every banana, from above, and the stalk will look
untouched. Once harvested the stalk should be hung in a cool, shady
place. Since ethylene helps initiate and stimulate ripening, and mature
fruit gives off this gas in small amounts, ripening can be hastened by
covering the bunch with a plastic bag. Plantains are starchy types that
are cooked before eating.
The antiquity of the banana and its
tendency to produce mutations or sports have resulted in an extensive
number of cultivars. Only the common ones growing in California are
- Apple, Silk, or Manzana
Dessert type, pleasant sub-acid
apple flavor when fully ripe. Fruit: 4 to 6 inches. Grows to 10 to
12 feet. The fruit is not ripe until some brownish specs appear on
the skin. From planting until harvest is approximately 15 months.
Resistant to Panama Wilt disease.
Clones of this variety are distinguished by the size of the
pseudostem. The largest is Lacatan (12 to 18 feet) followed by
Robusta and Giant Cavendish (10 to 16 feet). The smallest is the
Dwarf Cavendish (4 to 7 feet).
- Cuban Red
Very tall (up to 25 feet), very
tropical. Skin dark red, with generally reddish pseudostem. Fruit is
especially aromatic with cream-orange pulp. 20 months from planting
- Gros Michel
Commercially, the most important
and considered by many to be the most flavorful. Because of its
susceptibility to Panama Wilt disease it is being replaced with
resistant varieties. Although there is no Panama Wilt in California,
it does poorly here as the plant seems to need more heat and it
tends to grow more slowly than other varieties
- Ice Cream or
Medium-tall (15 to 20 feet),
bluish cast to the unripe fruit. Fruit: 7 to 9 inches, quite
aromatic and is said to melt in the mouth like ice cream. Bunches
are small with seven to nine hands. 18 to 24 months from planting
- Lady Finger
Tall (20 to 25 feet),
excellent-quality fruit, tolerant of cool conditions. 15 to
18 months from planting to harvest.
Commonly grown in California for
years as a landscape plant. Grows to 16 feet, more cold hardy than
any other. 15 to 18 months from planting to harvest. Flavor is good,
texture is less than perfect, but when properly grown and cultivated
it can produce enormous stalks of fruit. Excellent in banana bread.
Sometimes called horse, hog or burro banana, it can be purchased at
A Hawaiian variety with short,
salmon-pink flesh, plump fruit that may be cooked or eaten fresh. A
slender plant preferring a protected area with high humidity and
filtered light. Grows to about 14 feet tall.
A Cavendish clone resembling the
Robusta. Some believe them to be the same. The Dwarf Cavendish is
the most widely planted as it is better adapted to a cool climate
and is less likely to be blown over.
The same as Giant Cavendish.
Originated from a mutation of Dwarf Cavendish found in Queensland,
Australia. A commercial banana grown in many countries that does
well in California. 10 to 16 feet in height and has a distinctive
long, very large bud. The Del Monte is a Williams.
Lessard, William O. Complete
Book of Bananas. William O. Lessard, Publisher. 1992
Morton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm
Climates. Creative Resources Systems, Inc. 1987. pp. 29-46
Ortho Books. All About Citrus
and Subtropical Fruits. Chevron Chemical Co. 1985. pp. 20-23