The plant of Bananas
The banana (Arab word meaning finger) is the fruit of the banana tree, a plant of the Musa genus, belonging to the family of Musaceae, that technically is an herbaceous plant, but that is more similar to a tree, with stalks that can be high up to 8 m and leaves long up to 3m. The banana tree is in fact an evergreen, perennial plant native to tropical countries.
The stalk of this plant, called pseudostem, is formed by leaves at the base that are large with a central strong and evident venation; leaves have also secondary parallel venations that can easily torn into fringes. At the top of the pseudostem there is a crown-shaped bud of leaves, more than 2 m long and 1 m large, from which, after about two years, develop the white-yellowish flowers of banana. They bloom in June-July and are protected by violet bracts (rolled up leaves). Later develop fruits, the so-called bananas, that grow in groups called "hands", turned up in a cluster, called "bunch". The bunch can be 1 meter long and more: it may contain even more than 200 fruits and it can weigh more than 25 kg; the bunch of bananas withers after fructifying, but a new one will later develop from the underground perennial rhizome. The plant of banana can be, especially in nature, nine-ten metres tall, while the cultivated plants usually are not taller than 3 metres.
The plant of banana needs to be exposed in full light or slightly in the shade; the minimum temperature should not go down below ten degrees or leaves will fall: it is also for this reason that the countries that produce bananas worldwide are not European countries (in fact, winters in the EU countries are far more harsh and temperatures can go far more below 10° C). The plant of banana must thus grow in mild, warm and humid climates, it must be protected from winds and grow in full light or slightly in shade and its fruits, that is bananas, are present on the international fruit and vegetable markets all year long.
Bananas are always harvested unripe in the areas of production and, after the transport done on ships called “banana boats”, they ripe in warehouses heated with ethylene, a natural gas.
Before bananas are transported, they are usually dipped into tanks containing pesticides (for example tiobendazole): it is a precaution to avoid the set in of known diseases of bananas, such as for example the anthracnose, a fungus that takes place between the skin and the flesh of bananas after harvesting.
Bananas, ripened on trees and harvested for the consumption in production areas have a more delicate and intense taste compared to the fruits purchased on the European fruit and vegetable markets. Almost all modern parthenocarpic bananas, used to be eaten, come from the species Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.
On European markets bananas are usually soft and sweet and they are used as fruit. However, as mentioned before, in other countries the banana is used also as a vegetable and as a side dish to main dishes.
In Italy, the drought and the torrid climate of the latest years, apart from changing the typical Mediterranean climate, permitted to farmers to introduce the cultivation of some cultivars of bananas in the most warm regions of Italy, like for example in Sicily: in particular the common variety of Sicily took off. They are young plants of banana, about four years old, whose number of bunches produced is only of 100 per year, however, the good reaction of the European fruit and vegetable market caused an increase of these cultivations of bananas.
Major countries producers of bananas remain however, India, Brazil, Ecuador and Indonesia.
Bananas, among the most consumed fruit worldwide, has some disadvantages, such as the fact that there are small incomes: for this reason, nowadays bananas are more and more available as products of the fair trading in some countries of Central and South America.