Do bananas have seeds? Or are the seeds just to small to see? If bananas don't have seeds how do you get new bananas? Is this a natural phenomenon or man-made?

Hi,

Bananas, fantastic.  Bananas are in a family of plants called the Musaceae, or more generally the plantanes.  If you go to a supermarket, and buy a plantane, however, you will most likely get a giant, possibly blackened, banana, which looks quite unpalatable.  This is a cooking banana, and is very popular in Caribbean cooking.  It does have seeds, which are quite large, and can be quite hard.

If you want to go with the more traditional banana, this has no obvious seeds.  Sometimes you can see very tiny dot-like seeds near the centre of the banana, but they are infertile.  The reason for this, is that edible (the non cooking variety) are clonal, and to the best of my knowledge, all the bananas eaten in the 'West' are the 'Cavedish variety'.  Being clonal the genetics of one banana plant and another is the same, and this means that they are susceptible to diseases, and in the past cultivated bananas have been destroyed by bilght.  This has the potential to happen again.  If it does the banana producing industry will do what it did before we all ate the cavendish variety, it will cultivate a new one.

How are banana plants cloned, is this done through by growing roots from cuttings, grafting or another method? When was this started? Are all bananas (I mean the medium sized, yellow, sweet and seedless kind) the Cavendish variety? I am asking because I have eaten bananas like this in many 'non-western' countries as well.

To the best of my knowledge cutivated banana plants are not so much cloned, as clonal.  This means that the are from the same genetic stock/plant. 
Banana plants are not trees, but infact one of the largest 'herbs'.  The botanical definition of a herb is a plant that does not have lignified tissues.  Lignified tissues allow plants to make trunks and become trees!  Bananas have a tightly 'rolled' series of leaf bases, forming a 'pseudostem', small outgrowths at the base of the pseudostem develop into new plants.

The cavedish variety of banana became popular in the 1950s after the previous mass produced and cultivated species, Gros Michel, was attacked by a blight called 'Panama Disease'.  This was a fungal infection.

Throughout history we have seen problems from cultivating a crop from a stock with low genetic diversity.  Ceylon was the major centre for growing Coffee for the British Empire in the 18th century.  Ceylon is obviously now Sri Lanka, but the name lives on, not as a type of coffee, but tea.  The Coffee plants were destroyed by a coffee blight in the late 18th, early 19th century, and production switched to tea instead.

Last edited by Neil Gostling (1st Mar 2007 17:28:01)