We love eating bananas, since they are a very healthy, sweet snack and a good thing to include regularly in any diet. They make a good low-carb staple food and you can be sure never to have digestive problems if you eat a hand of bananas every day. Bananas come with enzymes that help our body digest them (which is why they are used in baby food) and with loads of essential minerals and vitamins. Currently our collection includes about 30 different kinds of banana, with some being very hard to find (Check out a list of all the bananas in our garden!). We are constantly looking for new kinds of banana, since every kind tastes at least a little different.
At our last project in Krabi bananas were our main focus, whereas the main focus here is on overall diversity. We brought all kinds from Krabi, but not all survived, so we have to slowly stock up our collection again when there are opportunities to do so.
We chose the banana leaf as our logo, because the banana plant has a special place in our hearts and we love and revere it. We have a special connection to the banana plant, whom we view as sacred. The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world, and botanically not a tree but a rather large grass. This makes her seem like a mythical visitor from a long-gone age where megaflora dominated the planet. Further, she is a symbol of unconfined fertility, vitality, and the endless cycle of life and death. Each individual trunk (called “pseudostem”) flowers, fruits, and then dies and decomposes, feeding the new shoots growing from one and the same rhizomatous rootstock (called a “corm”). Although bananas have both female and male flowers (the females come first and develop into fruit), most cultivated bananas reproduce asexually by forming shoots at the base (inappropriately called “suckers”) and are self-pollinating or don’t require pollination to form fruit.
Most Westerners know only one (or, at most, two) kinds of banana: the big one (and the small one). The standard supermarket banana is called the Cavendish and is, quite frankly, rather boring and bland. This cultivar was chosen not for its taste, but rather because from a capitalist point of view, this banana is the easiest to commercialize. The fruit doesn’t bruise easily, ripens slowly and simultaneously (therefore guaranteeing long shelf life), have exactly the same size and shape (and are therefore easy to box and ship), the same number of fruit on one hand and the same number of hands on one bunch (making it easy to calculate).
Just a few decades ago, the Gros Michel cultivar (at that time the one supermarket banana sold throughout the West) was completely and globally wiped out by a fungus that caused disastrous outbreaks of Panama disease, killing thousands of acres of banana monocultures at the same time (despite intensive aerial spraying with fungicides). All commercially grown bananas had exactly the same genetics, which is why the disease spread so easily. The banana companies just came up with a new clone, called the Cavendish (the banana we all know), and, seemingly without having learned anything from past mistakes, started planting this one instead, on thousands of acres, all around the world. And, you guessed it – Panama disease is back, this time as a new strain called TR4 that affects only the Cavendish.
Here in Southeast Asia, Panama Disease is right now still contained in Laos, where it ravages gigantic, Chinese-owned banana monocultures. So far, the answer has been to spray more chemicals (although it is clear that this will be merely an ultimatively ineffective, temporary measure – yet one with long-lasting consequences for the environment and local people). Chinese owned plantations of all kinds are know throughout the region for their heavy use of chemicals and their disregard for workers’ rights and safety, and their utter disrespect for the environments they (ab)use. Furthermore, the Chinese businessmen have started buying large swaths of land in Northern Thailand, where they will do exactly the same thing again, this time ensuring that Panama Disease will make it to Thailand (who said that we deserve the name homo sapiens?!).
Because the fungus is virtually impossible to contain, soon the Cavendish, too, will disappear from supermarket shelves, and will be replaced by the next boring-tasting banana clone that will be planted exactly the same way as before.
This is why we try to preserve a large variety of banana trees.
Some kinds of bananas are planted because of their beautiful appearance, such as the cream/snow banana or the black banana tree below:
Bananas can have all kinds of colors, like the red “Naak” banana or the black “Nam Wa” banana on those photos here:
One of the healthiest and most common bananas is the “Namwa” variety:
Many bananas are named after their shape:
Some kinds of banana have funny names:
Usually, bananas are harvested when they are still green, because birds and butterflies start eating the fruit as soon as it changes the color. We harvest them after the animals start eating the first fruit. This ensures that the fruit stays on the tree and ripens naturally for the longest possible period of time. The longer the banana stays on the tree, the more delicious they are in the end.
The banana tree itself is very useful, too! The flower and the inside of the trunk are edible, very nutritious (lots of dietary fiber) and very delicious. Further, the leaves can be used as a packing for food, and if you slice up the trunk and let it dry, it can be used to make rope. Banana tree is also a good fertilizer when buried in the earth and helps keeping water.
The banana tree has a multitude of medicinal benefits, too: when you stick a spoon in the banana trunk and collect the water and drink one spoonful it helps against an upset stomach, a tea of the banana flowers helps with menstrual pain.
PICTURE BANANA ROPE
Bananas, fermented banana tree, banana flowers, and fresh trunks can be used as chicken food, too.
In the past, children in Thailand used the leaves of the banana tree to make a big variety of toys, and the trunk can be used as a float.
Usually, banana trees are not planted by using their seeds, but by splitting off the small shoots that develop at the bottom root of the mother tree. See how many young trees evolve from one mother tree:
On the right side you see the main root ball (called rhizome), from which longer, regular roots called “suckers” grow that form the new trees to ensure the survival
We are currently expanding our collection, and since banana trees reproduce at a rapid rate, we share all kinds of banana with people who are interested.