The tree that’s not a tree

The banana plant is the biggest perennial herbaceous plant growing on earth, so it’s not a type of palm tree. The plant consists of two parts, the root clump and the green shoots. One root clump can produce several dozens of shoots over its lifetime, which flower, fruit and then die back, followed by the next shoot fruiting, etc. The biggest banana plant on our land can easily reach 5 meters in height.

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The biggest banana plant on earth can grow to up to 12 meters, but these don’t seem to grow around here. Our smallest type of banana gets up to around 2 meter and carries large amounts of fruit.

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There are roughly 2 types of bananas, the sweet variety, and the more starchy type called plantain. Green bananas are also commonly used around here, either cooked or fried. A special type of fried banana / plantain around here is called patacon, which looks more like a pancake.

Below you see a clump of banana shoots from one root system, so it’s actually one plant. Propagation of banana plants is done by splitting of a shoot and replanting it elsewhere. It will grow a new root system and from that new shoots will appear. You can keep cloning the plant like this and quickly multiply the amount you grow.

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If you don’t regularly cut of some shoots, one plant can develop into quite a dense clump. Generally people will leave only 3 shoots on the plant. A big one that’s about to flower or already flowering, a medium one to flower within a couple of months after the big one and a small one to take over next. The plants below could use a bit of thinning out.

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The trunk of the banana plant is formed by the leafs, which means technically it’s not a trunk. New leaves grow through the middle until they emerge from the top. Once enough leafs have grown, also through the middle, the flower grows out of the top. In the picture below you see the big flower head emerge. It bends down because of its weight.

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One after the other the flower leaves open and reveal first the female flowers that will grow into bananas and lower on the stalk is where the male flowers appear.

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Bananas grow in clusters of ‘hands’ which are small groups of about 4 to 7 individual bananas (fingers).

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Often the banana flowers attract small bees, ‘angel bees’ as they are called. These bees don’t sting and we see them a lot around here.

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Banana plants are quite thirsty and they’re heavy feeders. If they lack in either water or nutrients the fruits won’t be many and they won’t get as big. The flower head keeps on producing male flowers for quite some time.

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After flowering it takes about 3 to 4 months for the bananas to ripen. Just before they turn yellow we’ll harvest them. If we wait longer, the birds will take on the burden of harvest for us. When taking the bananas we generally cut down the shoot, because it won’t fruit again and die back anyway. Below my parents who got to harvest a cluster of bananas when they visited the farm. That’s about 10 kg from just one plant.

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It is possible for a single cluster to weigh around 40 kg.

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