If you're the type to wonder about such things, you may have noticed that the bananas you buy at the store seem to contain no seeds. If that's the case, how does the banana tree reproduce? We'll, it turns out the bananas do have seeds (of a sort) but they aren't used for reproduction.
What are Banana Seeds?
If you went out into the wild and opened a banana fruit, you would probably find seeds. Some, in fact, are large and take up much of the fruit, making the flesh hard to eat.
Our commercial bananas (which are, for the most part, the Cavendish variety) have been specially bred over the years so that they are seedless triploids (with three sets of genes, instead of just two) that do not form mature seeds. If you've noticed little black dots in the middle of the banana, you've discovered immature seeds that won't develop, which happens with triploids.
The banana as most Americans and Europeans know it is actually a type of plantain. In fact, all bananas are plantains. Those of the sweet variety that we usually peel and eat raw are often called "desert" bananas, owing to their sweetness and general snackability. What we call "plantains" simply have that popular name to distinguish them from the large varieties that are typically cooked before eating. Yummy, yellow desert bananas are bred from mutant strains of banana plants that happened to produce fruit without useful seeds.
Banana plants are cultivated by removing rhizomes from host plants and replanting the samples to grow on their own. With this method, one plant can become the "mother" of an entire plantation made up of genetically identical plants.
Talkin' 'bout Bananas
The next time you need to impress someone, peel off these terms to show your banana brain.
- Finger—an individual banana fruit
- Hand—a group of bananas, which can number up to 20
- Bunch—a cluster of banana hands; also called a banana stem
- Pulp—the part of the banana you eat
- Epidermis—banana peel; you can eat these, too, cooked or raw
- Phloem—the "strings" on banana fruit
- Musa—the banana genus; or Musa sapientum, if you want to be specific
More Banana Factoids
- Commercial banana plants are reproduced by using banana pups. The mature banana plant forms rhizomes that grow into a little plants known as pups that can be removed and planted elsewhere.
- Miss Chiquita was "born" in 1963, or at least that's when she made her debut on the banana labels; she made no mention of her age at the time.
- Americans eat 27 pounds of bananas each year, on average.
- World record for the most bananas peeled and eaten in one minute: 8
- Harry Belefonte's "Banana Song" appeared on Calypso, the first album to sell over 1,000,000 copies. Day-o.
- The Cavendish banana is named for the 7th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, who acquired the variety from Mauritius and cultivated it in England. The plant became an official cultivar in 1836 before making its way back to tropical regions, where it now is primarily grown.