common name for any
of a genus of tropical, tree-like herbaceous plants and also for their
fruit. Species of the genus are native to South East Asia but are now
grown extensively in all tropical countries for their fruit, fibre,
or foliage. The banana is a large, herbaceous perennial with a plant
rhizome (underground stem), from which the plant is perpetuated by sprouts
or suckers. In the tropics the stems are annual that is, they die after
the fruit ripens, and new stems are developed from buds on the rhizome.
These buds are the common means of propagating and making new plantations,
and the growth is so rapid that the fruit is usually ripe within ten
months after the offsets are planted. When fully grown the stem reaches
a height of 3 to 12 m (10 to 40 ft) and is surmounted by a crown of
large oar-shaped leaves up to 3 m (10 ft) long, with a strong fleshy
stalk and midrib. The flowers are borne in great spikes from the centre
of the crown of leaves and are arranged in whorls along the spike; the
female flowers occupy the base of the spike, and the males the apex.
The fruits vary in length from about 10 to 30 cm (4 to 12 in). The average
weight of a bunch is about 11 kg (25 lb), but individual bunches often
exceed 18 kg (40 lb). A stem bears only once, dies down, and is replaced
by sprouts, two or three of which are allowed to bear fruit.
The fruit of the plantain, or cooking banana, is larger, coarser,
and less sweet than the kinds that are generally eaten raw. The edible
part of a banana contains, on average, 75 per cent water, 21 per cent
carbohydrate, and about 1 per cent each of fat, protein, fibre, and
ash. Other parts of the plant abound in fibre, which can be used in
the manufacture of paper and cordage. One species is the source of Manila
hemp (abaca). The cooking banana may serve as a raw material for starch
manufacture. The starch content is about 25%. The granule size is in
the range 5 - 70 microns - a little smaller than potato starch and amore
elongated - but it resembles corn starch in paste characteristics like
gelatinizing temperature and gel strength, but with higher peak
viscosity. The starch is difficult to extract. It may be grated
easily, but the rasping is fibrous and starch yield is extremely low
with known technics.
Half of the world's banana crops are grown in Africa, and much of
the produce is used locally. The leading banana-export regions are Central
America and northern South America.
Scientific classification: Bananas make up the
genus Musa of the family Musaceae. The plantain, or
cooking banana, is classified as Musa x paradisiaca. The
Manila hemp or abaca is classified as Musa textilis.