Bananas are one crop we have on the farm here at UGA Costa Rica that I knew nothing about when I arrived. I think they may be my favorite plant that we have. First of all, bananas are the largest herbaceous flowering plant, and the fruit, botanically speaking, is a berry. The plant looks kind of like a small tree and each one produces only one bunch of bananas before it dies.
We have three varieties of bananas on campus. There are cuadrados, which are a slightly square variety that can be eaten cooked or raw; plantains, which are bigger, tougher, and eaten cooked; and then a sweet variety that is usually eaten raw and is called “banano”, the Spanish term for banana.
To the left is a nearly full grown bunch of bananas. It’s a bit hard to see how it connects to the tree, but you can see that they grow upwards and there are quite a few per bunch.
Banana plants produce flowers, and the bunch of bananas grows along the stem of these flowers. As you can see in the photo to the right, the flowers are open at the beginning of the process and they close once all the bananas have begun growing. The banana variety in this picture are plantains. Even with these not fully grown plantains you can see that they are bigger than the sweet bananas.
These are some sweet bananas in a fairly similar point in their growth.
These are caudrados. They are about the same size as the sweet bananas but they have sharper edges. Most people like to eat them cooked but I think they’re really good raw if you get them at just the right time (which is once they’ve turned yellow but haven’t gotten kind of woody from sitting there too long without being harvested).
Here’s the whole operation. It’s easier in this picture to see how it connects to the tree and how it relates in terms of size. The bunches are actually quite heavy, which can cause problems when harvesting them. I’ll cover that in another post.
I’ll leave you with this picture of a tiny banana tree. Like I said earlier, banana trees only produce one bunch of bananas and then we cut them down.
Fortunately, small bananas spring up right next to the large ones and the cycle goes on. On the one hand, there’s something kind of sad about taking this beautiful mother/daughter banana tree combo and hacking the mother tree to the ground. So it goes. On the other hand, I like bananas, and chopping them down with a machete is just as much fun as it sounds like it would be.
In a follow-up post I will attempt to make a tutorial covering the harvesting process.