Banana plant

Bananas and Plantains

Musa spp.

Origin:

South east Asia, probably New Guinea

Climate:

The banana can be grown in the home garden from the Kimberley to coastal areas as far south as Margaret River and east to Esperance.

Plant Description:

The banana gives a tropical ornamental appearance to a garden, due to its palm-like appearance and interesting flowers and fruits. The non-woody banana 'stem' is a collection of leaf-bases. The flower stalk grows up through the middle of the 'stem', emerges from the top and then grows downwards to produce the fruit. This is ready for harvesting about 5 to 8 months after flower emergence. A bunch of bananas consists of about 8 to 10 'upturned hands', each of which has about 10 to 14 bananas.

Relatives:

Musaceae Family. There are a number of edible species in Musa plus a number of hybrids.

Soils:

The key to growing bananas is to provide good supplies of water and fertiliser in the warmer months, so they are most suitable for gardens with bores. Plants should ideally be watered daily in summer.

Mulch well with a deep layer of compost.

Propagation:

Bananas are best propagated from mid spring to early summer. Remove a sucker that is about 40 to 70 cm high from the main plant, such that the sucker has a large rounded ‘bulb’ at its base. At this stage, the stem is vigorous, but the leaves are small. Remove all the roots and plant about 20 to 30 cm deep. Space at 2 to 3 metres apart.

Bananas are a species that has been propagated and selected by humans for such a long time that they no longer have seeds. There are wild species that do have seeds and are useful for creating new hybrids.

Cultivars:

The main commercial variety in Australia is the Williams or Tall Cavendish. Dwarf clones are available when space is limited. Goldfinger is a new variety that grows well in Perth, but is less suitable in northern areas. It is longer maturing and taller than Williams. The fruit has a slightly more acidic taste and a longer storage life. Plantains and Ladyfinger also grow well in Perth, but produce less fruit than the other types.

Flowering and Pollination:

Bananas produce fruit with no pollination and are seedless. As a result, there has been little successful breeding of varieties throughout the world.

Originally, bananas had big seeds and little flesh. Occasionally, a naturally seedless mutant plant would grow; over millennia, humans selected these seedless plants to propagate with suckers, and this is why today's bananas are seedless. There are wild species that do have seeds, and these are useful for creating new hybrids which may have resistance to some of the serious diseases of bananas.

Cultivation:

Bananas grow well in Perth, but must be given the right type of management. The number of plants that are growing in a clump must be closely controlled. Suckers will emerge at the base of the main plant. These should be selected so there is one main ‘stem’ bearing a bunch, one ‘stem’ that is about 1 to 2 metres high and one small ‘peeper’ that is less than 20 cm high. Fertilise monthly in the warmer months with a complete NPK Blue fertiliser which contains most of the 12 essential nutrients required by plants.

Wind Tolerance:

Bananas prefer an area that is protected from winds and should face north with plenty of sun. The lee of a two-storey house is ideal. The big leaves quickly become tattered from wind.

Pruning:

Remove surplus suckers. When the bananas are completely harvested, remove the main stem at the base and use it for mulch. The retained large sucker will then grow to produce a bunch in the following year.

The Fruit:

The fruit is technically a berry. It turns from deep green to yellow or red. There are some striped forms. The fruits range from 6cm to 30cm in length, cylindrical and curved. The flesh is white to deep yellow and may be firm, astringent, gummy or slippery with latex, ranging from dry and mealy to starchy when ripe. The flavour varies from sweet to subacid.

Plantains are usually considered to be more starchy than other bananas, more suitable for cooking as a vegetable, often while very green, rather than a dessert fruit. However, plantains will become sweet if allowed to ripen.

Fruit Production and Harvesting:

The first bunch should be harvested in less than two years and thereafter bunches should be harvested about every 18 months. Bananas may be ready for harvesting at any time in the year.

If bananas are allowed to mature on the tree, they may ripen all at once. To avoid this, a hand of green bananas may be removed every few days for about 6 weeks prior to normal ripening on the tree and these will mature inside a polythene bag in the house.

Fruit Uses:

Optimum storage temperature is 13°C. Do not place in the refrigerator. Surplus bananas may be dehydrated or frozen. They have a multitude of familiar uses. Plantains, the starchy ones, are very popular in many countries. They are often fried, made into chips, baked, or cut up into stews.

Pests and Diseases:

The common root-knot nematode may cause damage. It may be seen as swellings on the roots. Incorporate as much organic material as possible into the soil. In a home garden, sugar at 500 grams per square metre can be used to help control nematodes.

The really serious diseases, such as Panama Disease, Sigatoka and Black Leaf Streak are caused by fungi and others are caused by various viruses and bacteria; these are mainly confined to the hot, humid areas.

Comments:

Bananas are grown commercially in Israel, at the same latitude as Perth. In the early 1900s, before commercial production became common in Carnarvon, commercial bananas were grown by Chinese gardeners at the foot of Mt. Eliza, below Kings Park.