6 Surprising Facts About Bananas
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Posted by Eric Troy on 22 May 2013 21:03

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Most of use in the West eat a lot of bananas but actually know very little about this exotic fruit or the plant it comes from. Here are some surprising and little-known facts about our favorite fruit.

1. Wild Bananas are Filled With Seeds

Most wild bananas have fruits that are just chock-full of seeds and may contain very little pulp. They also may be very fibrous. Between the seeds and the texture, they can be inedible. The bananas we eat are cultivated varieties which are sterile. There are the remnants of seeds in them which are the little brown dots you see inside the banana pulp. They will not grow a new plant, though.

These bananas grow new plants from the formation of new shoots from underground "suckers" that sprout from the rhizomes. This occurs after the fruits have been picked and the plant has been cut down. They are cut down so that new plant will grow, since a banana plant grows it's fruits on a single stem, of which it will only produce one. All banana the subsequent plants are clones of the original plant. The cultivated variety originally came about as a hybrid of two species, M. acuminata and M. balbbisiana. Some wild banana varieties can produce edible fruits as well.


wild variety of banana fruit cut in half to show inside

This is a wild type banana!
Not very appetizing, is it?

image by Warut Roonguthai via wikimedia

wild variety of banana fruit cut in half to show inside

This is a wild type banana!
Not very appetizing, is it?

image by Warut Roonguthai via wikimedia


2. A Banana Tree is not a Tree, It's a Plant

There are many things we misunderstand about banana trees. The first banana tree fact that most people don't know is that bananas don't grow on trees! Most people, when they see a banana plant, tend to think of it as a tree. But it is a plant, or more specifically, a giant herb. Although you may think the stem of the plant seems like a tree trunk, it actually has no visible stem (called an aerial stem) or trunk! The actual stem of the plant is under the ground. The part that we think of as the stem or trunk is really just a bunch of leaves grown together in a tight sheath. The leaves grow straight up from the stem under the ground. Younger leaves grow in the center and have to push older leaves out of the way, resulting in a series of crescents that resemble an onion in cross-section. This is thought of as a false stem or pseudostem. The banana tree is the largest known plant without a woody trunk or stem.


banana tree or plant showing trunk (pseudostem) and green bananas

The trunk of this banana 'tree' is a bundle of leaves.
Notice the green 'stem' the bananas are growing on?
Banana plants only produce one of these.

banana tree or plant showing trunk (pseudostem) and green bananas

The trunk of this banana 'tree' is a bundle of leaves.
Notice the green 'stem' the bananas are growing on?
Banana plants only produce one of these.


3. The Banana Has Unlikely Relatives

The banana is related to the lily and the orchid. And it is a cousin to ginger and cardamon. This is because the banana is part of the order of flowering plants called Zingiberales. In addition to ginger and cardamom, this order also includes turmeric and galangal. These are usually thought of as the "ginger" family but botanists call it the Zingiberaceae family. Also in this order is arrowroot, of the family Marantaceae. Bananas and plantains are in the Musaceae family, of the genus Musa.

4. Bananas are Never Allowed to Ripen on the Plant

Bananas are always picked green and never allowed to ripen on the plant. Ripening is usually sped up by some means under controlled conditions. In some places, smoking is used but today ethylene gas is often applied in order to artificially accelerate the ripening process when needed or desired. They can, of course, be allowed to ripen slowly by themselves. A banana that ripened on the plant, if a bird or other animal didn't get to it first, would turn brown and mushy so quickly it could not be shipped to markets all over the world. But there is another problem. Bananas that ripen on the plant have a mealy texture and are not as sweet as bananas ripened off the plant. They also turn brown and mushy very quickly compared to green-picked bananas and will split open, allowing insects to infest the fruit.

5. Some Botanists Classify the Banana as a Berry

Seems like a strange berry, doesn't it. Well, not everyone agrees with this classification. Since a berry is a fruit that grows from a single ovary, some botanist figure that a banana should be called a berry since it also grows from a single ovary. The banana is also classified as a simple fruit, however.

6. Iceland is Europe's Largest Grower of Bananas

Although we usually think of the banana plant growing in warm, tropical climates, Iceland actually produces a lot of bananas. In fact, the country grows a large variety of tropical produce. To do this, they take advantage of the geothermal heat under the land which results in many water and steam geysers.

© 2016 by Eric Troy and CulinaryLore. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.