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Musa × paradisiaca: Well-travelled fruit

Most bananas we buy in the supermarket have travelled all the way from South or Central America. But the banana originated thousands of kilometers away in Southeast Asia. This fruit has come a long way from east to west! In Southeast Asia, it appeared as a cross between two wild species, and has been used by humans since prehistoric times. The banana appeared in Africa in the first millennium before Christ, and reached the Canary Isles around 1,500 A.D. A few years later, the Spaniards took the banana to the Caribbean, and even to Peru. Cultivation of this nutritious and tasty fruit then spread rapidly across tropical areas of Latin America. These cultivated bananas include both the sweet bananas that we’re used to as well as the cooking bananas known as plantains, whose starch does not turn into sugars as the fruitsripen.

Cultivated banana plants are sterile, meaning they don’t produce seeds. The only remnant of such seeds in ripe fruit are a few tiny black dots. For thousands of years, then, bananas have reproduced asexually by producing shoots. These shoots develop from the underground corm or rhizome. This method of reproduction results in a plant with very little genetic diversity, making it vulnerable to disease. Fungi or viruses can destroy entire plantations, but commercially cultivated bananas cannot be crossed with disease-resistant wild species due to their sterile flowers. Scientists hope that genetic manipulation may eventually help.

Audio file download
Musa × paradisiaca: Well-travelled fruit (MP3, 788 KB)

Audio production and copyright: Soundgarden Audioguidance GmbH
Text: Ehrentraud Bayer, Botanischer Garten München-Nymphenburg

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