Ten thousand years ago, in the forests of south-east Asia, there was a flowering, herbaceous plant, with broad, fibrous leaves, beautiful white flowers and bunches of cylindrical fruits. Today, the fruits of the descendants of this plant are sold in their billions around the world, in markets, supermarkets and corner shops, Shirley Walker reports in this article for London’s Telegraph.
Bananas are now big business, and grown in every tropical region on earth, from India to Africa, and the Caribbean to Australia. They have become so basic to our everyday lives that we sometimes forget they were once living wild in the rainforest, their fruits eaten by tribes of hunter-gatherers.
The wild banana was, however, very small – about the size of your thumb – and packed full of hard seeds that could break your teeth. But one day, about 10,000 years ago, someone chanced upon a plant whose fruits contained no seeds. This prompted the beginning of the selection and breeding that would eventually lead to the birth of the banana we know and love today. Bananas, you see, are very easy to grow – they can be reproduced by cutting off a shoot and sticking it into the ground.
There are now lots of unusual banana varieties around the world, and you can see many of them coming into flower and fruit at the moment, in the Rainforest biome at the Eden Project. Check out the stunning purple fruits of the ‘Red Dakka’, and the amazing, bright yellow bracts of the Paka – a variety from Papua New Guinea that you will find in Oceanic Islands. It produces very big bunches of fruit, used by breeders for crossing with other varieties.
There is a strange variety lurking behind the cassava hut, with funny little green fruits that stick out in all directions, and in the Malaysian home garden, you will find the Pisang Seribu, or ‘1000 fingered banana’, with lots of small yellow fruits forming the longest bunches in the world. This one is the national plant of Malaysia.
The tiny dwarf Cavendish makes a stunning house plant, but if you want to grow a banana plant outside in your garden, try Musa basjoo or its close relative, Ensete ventricosa (Musa ensete). These are both almost hardy, though you may have to give them some protection from frost.
Our massive West African plantains – traditional Horn plantains – are a staple food. They are starchier and less sweet than regular bananas and are eaten cooked or made into beer. In Uganda, everyone grows plantains in their gardens.
In our main banana exhibit we are showcasing the Formosa banana and the FHIA hybrids which are bred in Honduras. These are both similar to the Cavendish varieties, but are bred for their disease resistance. Both will be fruiting in the biome in September.
We also have some ornamental varieties dotted around the biome, grown for their showy flowers. Musa ornata, from India and Burma, has erect spikes of orange-yellow flowers with pink bracts, and Musa zebrina, from Indonesia has stripy leaves and lovely flowers with pink brects.
The fibrous leave of the banana plant have long been used to make fine textiles and fishing nets, and in Japan they were used to make high quality kimonos.
It wasn’t too long ago that bananas were considered to be rare and exotic treasures from faraway places, but now they are available in abundance all year round – the world’s most perfect fruit, in its own wrapping.
For the original report go to http://www.telegraph.co.uk/gardening/howtogrow/10872040/Going-bananas-the-fruit-that-changed-the-world.html