Department of
Plant Biology
Plant Biology Greenhouse, University of Illinois

Banana (Musa sp.)

Bananas are native to Southeast Asia. 

Malaysia is believed to be the origin of bananas.  It is believed that early travelers brought the

banana to India.  Records as early as 6th century BCE were found  in Buddhist Pali writings.  Alexander the Great discovered bananas during his campaign in India in 327 BCE.  It is believed that Alexander the Great brought the banana back to the Western World.  With human travels, banana plants kept moving west.  Banana plantations were known to exist in southern China as early as 200CE.  Eventually the plant was taken to Madagascar.  It was here that bananas really began there movement.  Islamic warriors dealing in slave trade also traded ivory and bananas.  It is the Arabic slave traders who are credited with naming the banana. Bananas grown in Africa and India were smaller than the bananas found in today's markets.  They were about the size of a man's finger. The slave traders named the plants banan meaning finger in Arabic.  The bananas moved to the island of Guinea via the slave trade.  It was here that Portuguese sailors discovered the banana in 1402.  The Portuguese sailors brought banana plants to the Canary Islands and started plantations there.  In 1516, a Portuguese Franciscan monk, Friar Thomas de

Berlanga, packed rootstocks of banana plants and brought them westward to the Caribbean Island of Santo Domingo.  The bananas thrived in the Caribbean

climate and it wasn't long before the plants spread throughout the Caribbean and Central America.  After a long travel westward, the banana finally made its way to

America.  In 1876 bananas were brought into Philadelphia during the 100th Centennial Celebration of America winning its freedom from England.*

     Bananas are America's #1 fruit.  The average consumer eats over 28 pounds of bananas a year.  Bananas are a good source of vitamin C, potassium, and dietary fiber.  They are also free of fat, sodium or cholesterol.  They are great for athletes replenishing carbohydrates, glycogen and body fluids burned during exercise.  The potassium also relieves leg cramps in athletes.

     While we also refer to bananas as 'trees' they are not trees.  Bananas are the largest growing perennial herb.  The stem is made up of leaf petioles called a psuedostem.  The actual stem of the banana is underground.  This underground stem is called a rhizome which produces psuedostems continuously.  The psuedostem grows for 18months before producing fruit.  The fruit can take up to 9 months to reach maturity.  After the psuedostem produces a bunch of bananas that psuedostem will die.  Banana plants are tropical growing between the latitudes of 30 degrees North and 30 degrees south of the equator.  The most common variety imported to America is the Cavandish.  It is a medium sized banana with a creamy, smooth texture and a thinner peel than other banana varieties.


*The Complete Guide to Bananas webpage:



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