The New Student's Reference Work/Banana

Banana, (bȧ-nä′nȧ), the name of a fruit and also of the plant which produces it. It is thought to be a native of India, but is now grown in all tropical countries. We get our bananas largely from the West Indies and Central America. The fruit is grown extensively in our island possessions, and some is produced in Florida, Louisiana and California. There are many varieties; the one commonly exported is the Martinique, which shows a large bunch of yellow fruit. A delicious variety is the apple banana, a small banana with fragrance and taste of the apple. In Hawaii, just in the home garden of the sugar planter, may be grown fifteen different kinds. Common in tropical countries is a popularly called cooking banana, not edible raw; with thick, salmon-colored flesh and dark skin, similar to the plantain of the South Seas. It is told that the natives of one of the South Sea islands subsist entirely on bananas; on many islands it is the main food. Between the plantain and the banana there is little, if any, botanical difference. Both are Musa sapientum. The plantain, a much less familiar fruit, is large, solid and mealy compared with the ordinary banana. The banana is very nutritious and wholesome when thoroughly ripe. The bunches are cut off when green; those for export, so they will ship well; those for home use, to keep them from the birds. They are often hung from the beam of the veranda to ripen. Some bunches grow to enormous size, one occasionally weighing 80 pounds. A small area of land will produce a rich crop.

A plant bears but a single bunch, then the stalk is cut down and the sprouts take its place. When about three feet high, these are transplanted, put far enough apart to allow space for the great leaves that will outspread wide when full grown. The plant or tree varies in height from 10 to 40 feet, and at the top of the stalk the immense, undivided leaves are from six to ten feet long and one to two feet wide. The flower-bearing is most curious; the flower cluster with its tight-overlapping scales is a great elongated purple bud in appearance. Under each scale is a true flower of which there may be over a hundred in each "bud," forming that many bananas as they develop. Under favorable conditions a banana plant bears when from twelve to eighteen months old. Bananas grown for their fruit are perpetuated by root-cuttings, by sprouts and suckers.