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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 44.djvu/504

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

their industrious service with frequent draughts of nectar of her own inimitable brew.

While the flowers are thus developing and giving place to fruits, the stalk of the bunch is lengthening and carrying the clusters farther apart, making room for the growth of the fruits, which pretty well keeps pace with that of the stalk. Very early the stalk begins to bend over and, as soon as it has become long enough, turns completely on itself. Thus the bud, and finally the bunch of fruit, hang downward between the leaves. On the other hand, the young bananas turn upward in their growth, and come at last to point directly up. As the tip of the stalk still lengthens, when the bananas are full grown it often hangs a yard below them, tipped by the purple plummet of yet unfallen bracts. It is by this sterile stalk that we see the bunches hung in our shops; that is, in a position just the reverse of that in which they grow.

In the Eastern tropics, the number of varieties and species of bananas and banana-like plants is large; but in America those which are cultivated to any extent are very few. Indeed, of true bananas we need notice only two. The common yellow variety, which is almost exclusively that which our markets receive, is the only one raised in Jamaica, and the chief one everywhere. But in Cuba and Central America the stout, red-skinned variety is still somewhat cultivated and occasionally shipped. It produces smaller bunches, but larger fruits, as a rule, than the yellow one. Another plant, so like the banana in habit as to be practically indistinguishable, but with larger yellow fruits which are eaten only when cooked, is the plantain. Its fruit is a staple article of food with the natives of Jamaica; and, when sliced and fried in sweet cocoanut oil as a Creole cook can do it, is a dish to tickle the palate on which the flesh-pots of Egypt pall.

It is a matter of common observation that bananas contain no seeds. Cultivation through unnumbered generations has led to the atrophy of these organs through the substitution of a vegetative mode of propagation, much to the advantage of the eater of the fruit, at least. Only in one or two isolated regions of the Old World are the primitive seed-bearing bananas known. If we examine the rounded mass at the base of a well-grown plant, which is its true stem, there will be found one or more knob-like outgrowths which are plainly large buds. As the plant becomes older, these buds, or "eyes," as the banana grower calls them, develop upward, breaking through the soil and unfolding their first leaves. From the bases of their own stems, which are merely differentiated bits of the stem of the parent plant, roots are sent down; and thus the shoots become separated or capable of separation from the parent, and so, of independent life. At this stage