The banana plant (Musa sp.) is a herbaceous plant which produces banana fruit. Almost all modern edible bananas come from two wild species: M. acuminata (from Southeast Asia) and M. balbisiana (from South Asia); the previous scientific names, M. sapientium and M. paradisiaca, are no longer used. The term “banana” is also used to describe members of the genus Ensete, such as the false banana and snow banana, sometimes referred to as enset. These also belong to the family Musaceae, which includes true bananas of the genus Musa.
In popular culture and commerce, “banana” typically refers to the soft, sweet, yellow fruits known as “dessert bananas,” which are an example of naturally selective evolution with some tampering by humans; prior to the discovery of dessert bananas, all other bananas were firmer, starchier, and known as plantains, which need to be cooked before they can be eaten. Sometimes, though, “banana” and “plantain” are used interchangeably. Though bananas are native to tropical southern Asia and are believed to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea, they are now cultivated throughout the tropics in around 135 countries. Domestication of the banana likely occurred between 8000 and 5000 BCE. Bananas are usually grown for their fruit, though they are also used to make banana fibers, banana wines, and are used as ornamental plants.
Dr. Gerry Harding identifies a banana species on Isla Nublar as Musa callimusa, which is a fictional species. However, in real life there is a section of the genus Musa called Callimusa.
Bananas technically are not trees, but rather herbaceous flowering plants. They are the tallest herbs in the world, sometimes reaching over 33 feet tall in the largest cultivars. Its pinnate leaves can reach up to nine feet long and two feet wide, and are easily torn by wind. It produces an inflorescence when it reaches adulthood, which is sometimes called the banana heart. Fruits develop from the heart in large hanging clusters made up of three to twenty tiers (called “hands”). The individual fruits are yellow with a leathery peel and a whitish stringy interior. Cultivated bananas have nearly nonexistent seeds due to selective breeding, and some have no seeds at all.
Certain cultivars of banana in the section Callimusa are known as Fe’i bananas and are easily identifiable by their upright-growing bunches and bright orange fruit flesh rich in beta carotene.
The banana plant is a fast-growing herb, and may begin producing bunches of bananas at nine months of age. It grows from small seeds; in most of the domesticated cultivars, the fruit contains non-functional seeds or lacks seeds entirely and so must be propagated by cutting and transplanting.
All of the above-ground parts of the banana plant grow from a structure called the corm. This part of the plant produces leaves, which form the stem. When the plant is fully mature, the corm stops producing leaves, and instead produces a spike-shaped inflorescence which bears the flowers. This grows upward until it reaches the top of the plant, becoming the banana heart.
All known bananas are monoecious and possess both male and female flowers.
The banana plant is native to the tropics. They grow well in soil that is at least 60 centimeters deep, not compacted, and well drained of water; as long as these conditions are met, they will grow in most soil types.
Originally, various Musa species grew in South and Southeast Asia, where they are still common. Wild-type bananas can still be found outside of plantations following their domestication by humans. The two wild seeded species considered to be the predecessors of the modern edible banana are M. acuminata and M. balbisiana, the former of which (known as the Cavendish banana) is the most famous. There are, however, at least 68 species and two prominent hybrids in the genus Musa, many of which produce banana or plantain fruits; all of these originate in the Australasia region, many of them native to islands such as Borneo and the Solomon Islands.
The progenitor banana species Musa acuminata is originally native to the Malesia region and Indochina, favoring wetter tropical environments. Its counterpart Musa balbisiana is hardier and naturally lives over a wider range; before being domesticated it grew wild in eastern South Asia, northern Southeast Asia, eastern India, and southern China.
Bananas were likely domesticated in Papua New Guinea between 8000 and 5000 BCE. In the thousands of years of history that have ensued, they have been transported to and grown in about 135 other countries throughout the tropics, beginning with Australasia and Africa. They remain common in Southeast Asia and Indonesia. As of 2016, the largest percentage of the world’s bananas (28%) were grown in India and China; including plantains, they produced 163 million tons of fruit. Bananas are also abundantly grown in Latin America where they are a major export for numerous countries.
Because they have been heavily modified by humans into their current state, most banana cultivars cannot survive or propagate in the wild. This ensures that, with a few exceptions, the banana cannot become an invasive species in any of the countries where it has been introduced in agriculture. They are also seriously impacted by a range of diseases, which can wipe out monoculture crops in a very short time.
One area where bananas have notably been introduced is the Gulf of Fernandez, an area of the Costa Rican Pacific known for its numerous small volcanic islands. Banana plants are known on Isla Nublar (in the form of Musa callimusa specifically) and on Isla Sorna, the largest island in the Muertes Archipelago. They were grown in plantations on Isla Sorna at several locations, especially in the wet western regions of the island. On Isla Nublar, they may have been introduced by the indigenous Tun-Si tribe. Some bananas in the section Callimusa, to which the fictional Musa callimusa presumably belongs, are known as Fe’i bananas and probably are descendants of the species Musa maclayi.
In the 1980s, these islands were leased from Costa Rica by International Genetic Technologies, which displaced the indigenous people and led to the banana plantations being abandoned. The plants were intentionally left as a food source for native and introduced wildlife, including the de-extinct animals bred by InGen there. On Isla Nublar, banana plants were known in the primary Triceratops paddock; the leaves were fed upon by the dinosaurs. The bananas may have been deliberately cultivated between 1988 and 1993 by InGen, and also between 2002 and 2015 when the island was occupied a second time by them; in 2015 the island was abandoned, and in 2018 a volcanic eruption decimated Isla Nublar’s forests. Many of the bananas were likely destroyed in the eruption, and they may be extinct on Isla Nublar. Meanwhile, Isla Sorna’s status is heavily guarded by its owners, but its bananas’ seeds are non-functional as with most cultivars. Because of this, the bananas on Isla Sorna cannot spread beyond their plantations without human intervention.
Behavior and Ecology
Bananas, like most plants, take in carbon dioxide through the stomata in their leaves during the daytime and close the stomata at night.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
As a photoautotroph, the banana plant creates its own food using energy from sunlight. It obtains water through its roots, and takes in carbon dioxide through microscopic pores in its leaves called stomata. It then uses the energy it obtains from the sun to convert these into carbohydrates, producing oxygen as a waste product.
The banana plant’s huge pinnate leaves are an adaptation to maximize the amount of sun exposure it gets, and therefore the amount of carbohydrates it can produce.
Most plants can interact with one another by means of chemical signalling. While banana plants commonly grow in groves, their interactions are poorly chronicled.
In all fruiting plants, the fruit structure is intended for reproductive purposes. Animals pollinate the herb’s flowers, though male and female flowers are found on the same plants. The female flowers develop into the fruits we know as bananas. When an animal eats the banana, the seeds are carried some distance away and deposited in a new habitat by means of the animal’s dung. They are not a seasonal plant and breed year-round. The stem dies after reproduction, but new offshoots have usually sprouted by this time and will continue to grow.
However, in cultivated bananas, the seeds are typically reduced to tiny, nonfunctional specks or are absent. Such a trait would never evolve in nature (as it would ensure that the plant would never reproduce), but humans have bred the banana to have this trait in a perfect example of artificial selection. Because of this, cultivated bananas need to be propagated asexually by humans; the domesticated plants are allowed to grow two shoots at a time, so that the second, younger shoot (called a “sucker”) can be used to produce a new crop roughly six to eight months after the main one has died. This does sometimes happen in the wild as well.
Most plants utilize chemical signals such as pheromones to communicate with one another. The specific signals used by banana plants are not well studied.
Dr. Gerry Harding has stated that the Triceratops on Isla Nublar like to eat banana leaves. Because they favor the leaves instead of fruits, it is unlikely that Triceratops are important distributors of seeds. Instead, they are simply predators of the banana plant. The animals mostly chewed on the leaf’s stem, rather than the pinnate part of the leaf itself.
The junior novel Survivor describes bananas as a food source for herbivorous mammals, such as two-toed sloths, monkeys, and opossums, as well as depicting Diplodocus feeding on the leaves. Like all cultivated bananas they cannot be spread by fruit-eating animals because their seeds are non-functional or absent, so the banana’s impact on Isla Sorna is limited and will eventually end.
The banana is a common iconic product of the tropics, and is one of the major exports of warmer countries. Often, bananas are harvested by impoverished people over the course of long, hard days due to the economic and infrastructural disparity affecting the global south; because of this, banana plantations are closely associated with hardship and taxing physical labor. Poor countries used for labor and production by richer countries are sometimes called “banana republics” due to the association with banana plantations. White supremacist cultures may take this symbolism a step further in using bananas in acts of hate speech against people of African descent.
Thankfully, most of polite society has a far more positive relationship to the banana, especially within the range where this fruit is cultivated. Since it is so widely grown and easy to access, it is a staple in the diets of many people around the world and has become a symbol of good health and food security. For example, in Tamil weddings in South India, banana trees are tied together in archways to symbolize the community’s blessings onto the newlywed couple for long, productive lives together. Bananas are also prominent in the spiritual beliefs of Australasia, where they are frequently associated with ghosts and other spirits. In Thailand, the feminine spirit Nang Tani is often said to inhabit plantains, and in Malay folklore the ghost Pontianak is said to reside in banana plants during the day.
Bananas are also common in artwork both from and depicting the tropics, since they are such a major export and dietary staple. Outside of the tropics, bananas are sometimes seen in art and comedy as well; English-speakers commonly find “banana” to be a funny-sounding word, and the comical act of slipping on a discarded banana peel is one of the classic features of physical comedy. In Western cultures the banana is also used as a sexual symbol.
Bananas were first cultivated as long as ten thousand years ago in Papua New Guinea and other parts of Australasia, and soon spread throughout Australia, South Asia, and the Pacific. As human contact increased between different parts of the world, bananas became a widespread crop in the tropics globally, and are now cultivated in 135 different countries. Over a hundred million tons of bananas are produced yearly in the modern day. Most bananas are grown for families or local markets, but regions such as the Caribbean produce for the global market.
Most banana plantations employ monoculture techniques, where a single cultivar of banana is grown in massive numbers without any other cultivars present. This is cost-efficient, but leaves the crops vulnerable to disease because cultivars have very low genetic diversity. For long-term sustainability, it is recommended to cultivate multiple types of bananas together, which will strengthen the population against disease.
Some of the diseases that impact banana plants include black sigatoka and Panama disease, which are caused by fungi. Panama disease specifically is responsible for the near-extinction of the Gros Michel banana, and new strains of it are threatening the Cavendish. Other diseases include banana bunchy-top virus (BBTV) and banana bacterial wilt. Many of these diseases are increasingly hard to treat as they become resistant over time, and some, such as BBTV, have no known cures. Such diseases can only be treated by destroying the infected plants and screening soil for contaminants.
Bananas intended for export are picked while green, and once they arrive in their destination country they are ripened artificially by being sealed in a room full of ethylene gas. This gives them the bright yellow color typically associated with supermarket bananas in the north. During transport, they must be refrigerated between 56.3 and 59.0 °F (13.5 and 15 °C) to ensure the ripening process occurs properly; lower temperatures than this will permanently stop them from ripening and cause them to break down and turn gray. At standard refrigeration temperatures in a home, the skin of a banana will blacken fairly quickly but the fruit remains unharmed. Keeping the banana cool is meant to slow ripening without completely stopping it by preventing the bananas from producing ethylene. If refrigeration is impossible or unwanted, an ethylene absorbent can be used to keep the banana from ripening as quickly. Carbon dioxide also extends the ripening process, and is produced naturally by the banana over time; this can be exploited to make the banana last longer during shipping.
Farming bananas can lead to eutrophication of local ecosystems, caused by sedimentation from the plantations including fertilizer and other agricultural byproducts. Sudden increase of nutrients in a body of water causes an algal bloom, and this eventually leads to sudden oxygen loss and animal die-offs. According to the World Wildlife Fund, banana plantations produce more waste than any other form of agriculture, including organic and inorganic waste (such as plastic bags and packaging material). Banana plantations are believed to be responsible for about 60% of coral reef loss in the ocean near Costa Rica. Monocultures also rapidly deplete soil content, and demand for agricultural land leads to deforestation; these together create regions of poor soil quality that are prone to floods. All of these risks are things to keep in mind when cultivating bananas. Currently, voluntary sustainability standards are being used to mitigate environmental damage from banana farming, and these are growing to represent a significant amount of banana crops.
Because it is such a common crop, the banana is well-studied and used for scientific research in disciplines as wide-ranging as genetics, chemistry, physics, and pathology. The accessibility of bananas to the general public makes them useful teaching tools; for example, a commonly-cited genetics fun fact is that humans and bananas have roughly 50% of their genomes in common. This is because plants and animals share a common ancestor, and is used to illustrate the fact that evolution tends to conserve genes rather than replace them. Another educational concept explained by the banana is the “banana equivalent radiation dose,” a way to measure naturally-occurring radiation emitted by living things. Because of the potassium-40 present in bananas (and other organisms), they are naturally slightly radioactive. Consuming a banana exposes a human to a safe amount of radiation, about 15 becquerels, and is close to one percent of a human’s average daily dose of radiation. It is about fifty times less than the amount in a dental x-ray procedure, and a person will be exposed to four hundred times the banana equivalent dose by taking a cross-country commercial flight across the United States.
Scientific study into bananas also benefits agriculture. Banana plants can be affected by a number of diseases, largely caused by fungi and microorganisms, and these can be devastating to monoculture crops. Until the 1950s, the Gros Michel cultivar was the gold standard of bananas; then, the spread of Panama disease destroyed them. As they were grown in single-cultivar plantations, the disease ran rampant through the groves and killed most of the plants. After this, the Cavendish banana group replaced the Gros Michel. Scientists now believe that banana monoculture is likely to suffer another blow from disease, potentially from new strains of Panama disease. It is believed that increasing the diversity of cultivated bananas and growing various types together will strengthen the banana crop against disease. Many botanists advise that disease does not spread as quickly from one cultivar to another, and should one cultivar be wiped out like the Gros Michel, it would be ideal to have more at the ready.
Bananas also pose a challenge to taxonomists because virtually all of the commonly grown species are actually hybrids of different varieties of Musa. Some contain genes of two or even three species of banana plant. Originally they were classified into two species based on their use as food; Musa sapientum for dessert bananas, Musa paradisiaca for plantains. Banana classification has undergone many revisions throughout history and the common modern-day banana cultivars are believed to be hybrids of two particular wild species. However, in the genus Musa there are nearly seventy species, many of which produce edible fruit, and there may be even more hybrids than originally assumed.
Approximately 168.6 million tons (153 million tonnes) of bananas were produced worldwide in 2017. The global banana trade involves virtually every country on Earth, with 135 different tropical and subtropical countries producing bananas for the remainder of the world. Demand for bananas has historically led to, and in some cases still facilitates, the exploitation of these often poorer southern countries by wealthier ones. Workers’ rights in countries where banana plantations are a major economic driver remains one of the greater global controversies in agriculture.
In terms of exports, the world leaders are India and China, which together produce 28% of the world’s bananas. South American countries also produce large quantities, as do nations in the banana’s original range in Australasia and the Pacific.
The high demand for bananas has led to monoculture becoming commonplace. This is cheaper because it requires only one cultivar of banana, meaning that most crops have extremely low genetic diversity. As a result, resistance to specific diseases is quite rare among bananas; if one becomes infected, the disease will spread like wildfire and destroy the entire crop. The Gros Michel cultivar was decimated this way, and the Cavendish will probably suffer the same fate soon. Without increasing genetic diversity among banana crops, which would be costlier than monoculture, the global banana market will continue to regularly take these hits.
The banana has been an important starchy food crop in the tropics for six to ten thousand years. The first banana agriculture was in New Guinea, by the indigenous Paupans before Austronesian-speaking people arrived to the region. Humans have selectively bred bananas to have incredibly small seeds, making them more palatable; this means that the bananas must be propagated manually, as they cannot reproduce normally. In addition to their fruit, the banana’s inner trunk and the banana heart can also be eaten; the large waterproof leaves are frequently used as plates, cups, or umbrellas. The fibers are used for textiles and paper.
Banana plantations are common in the tropics. In the Jurassic Park Adventures junior novel Survivor, banana plantations were one of Isla Sorna’s primary economic resources prior to InGen buying the island. Bananas belonging to the fictional species Musa callimusa were grown on Isla Nublar as well, though there is no indication that there were large-scale plantations on the island as the novelization states was the case on Isla Sorna. Bananas in the section Callimusa include the distinctive Fe’i bananas, which are commonly grown in the Pacific for local markets. These bananas are identifiable by their vibrantly-colored orange fruit, rich in beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A). They can be eaten raw, but are commonly cooked, baked, or boiled, and topped with coconut cream. Their red sap can be used as a dye or to make ink. In Indonesia, Fe’i bananas are sometimes used as a preventative measure for childhood blindness; there is ongoing scientific research into the effectiveness of this.
Bananas are often monocultured for food, and are a common staple in diets everywhere. For example, bananas served raw in the peel were one of the snack foods served at Jurassic World and were commonly eaten by visitors. It is unknown if they were actually farmed on Isla Nublar at that point in time, though they had been before. On the day the park closed, discarded banana peels were among the types of garbage left strewn around visitor facilities such as the Mosasaurus Feeding Show; fortunately, since they are organic plant matter, they would decay reasonably quickly and not be a source of pollution in the island’s environment.
Along with their more standard uses, bananas can be fermented to make alcoholic drinks, including banana wine and banana beer. The plants themselves can be used as ornamental species as well. There is some evidence that banana peel powder is a reusable method for mitigating heavy-metal water contamination.
These plants can grow very tall and are more flexible than they might appear. Take safety precautions if you need to climb them, and always climb with a partner who can help you if you become injured or fall. Expert banana harvesters will often pull the plant’s crown to ground height by tying it down before picking the fruits, which is a much safer way to harvest this crop than scaling its stem.
If you have a latex allergy, the peel of the banana may trigger a reaction.
Behind the Scenes
Bananas briefly appeared in the San José scene of Jurassic Park and in the junior novel Survivor, but were more famously mentioned in Jurassic Park: The Game. In the game, the banana is identified as “Musa Callimusa.” While there is a section of the banana genus Musa which is called Callimusa, the way it is presented in the game sounds as though it is meant to refer to a species of Musa, though there is no such species as Musa callimusa.