For The Answer
The MOST COMMONLY ASKED question of the year HAS to be the banana question: Why do I have bananas on my tree this year? Before all of these questions drive me "bananas" I will explain why you have bananas this year.
What is a banana?
Although the banana may grow to be 10 to 30 feet tall, it is really NOT A TREE, but a great perennial herb. The height, by the way, may depend on the variety and environmental conditions.
What most people consider to be the banana "tree" stem is composed of compressed, curved leaf sheathes arranged spirally in strips. Successive new leaves grow up in the center and, as they expand, press the older sheathes outward. In a mature plant, the outer leaf sheathes do not encircle as large a percentage of the part under them as do the inner, younger leaf sheathes. When the last leaf has formed, a flower stalk pushes up through the center. The time between the planting of a young sucker plant and the beginning of flower formation may be 6 to 12 months. Another month or more is then required for the flower to reach the top.
Though the banana plant will grow moderately well at temperatures that would be normally too low for growth or even survival of some other topical species, cooler temperatures will slow its growth rate. This means that at least 9 months to 1 year may be required before banana flowers are seen. Also, chilling temperatures of 50 to 53 degrees F. or lower may seriously reduce the quality of fruit that is ready or nearly ready for harvest, if such temperatures continue for many hours.
An ideal banana region would have no temperatures below 60 degrees F. or above 95 degrees F., with a temperature above 75 degrees F. existing during a considerable part of that time. In this area of Texas, we have only 9 months (March to November) of warm, frost?free days. So, "normally" banana fruit NEVER forms. However, last winter was mild. Large stems which had already started flower buds did not die back, so this year many people have bananas.
People do wonder about the banana flowers and the stalk formation. After emerging at the top of the plant, the flower stalk hangs downward so the base of the flower cluster is pointed upward. Flowers of the banana are unisexual by abortion of male or female organs. Female flowers with abortive male parts open first along the base of the stalk. As the flower clusters expand, the purple petals fall off. All that remains is a small, "baby" banana. The edible banana is a sterile triploid meaning that pollination is not necessary for fruit production. Later and farther down the stalk, male flowers begin to be formed. These will continue for several feet down the stalk and are usually cut off. Removal of the male flower portion of the stalk, leaving several inches of the stalk beyond the last banana cluster, causes the fruit bunches to be heavier. People in some countries are said to cook this portion for food.
Some people have bananas growing but don't know when to harvest them, or how to make them ripen. Unlike most other fruits, the banana will develop a resemblance to normal flavor after they are harvested at any time after they are as small as 2 to 3 inches long. However, the greener the fruit harvested, the slower the ripening processes will be. For best size and taste quality, the stem of the fruit should be harvested intact when the individual bananas of the last “hand” (group or ring of bananas) to open have become rounded between the ridges of the fruit. Bananas which are deeply ridged when green become more rounded with less prominent ridges when physiologically mature though still green. Bananas ripen best if removed from the plant after reaching the rounded ridge maturity. Bananas will ripen slowly if left on the plant but often burst and spoil. Few of the ripening changes proceed well in banana fruits left to ripen on the tree: starch remains high while the sugar remains lower than in fruit ripened off the tree.
Separating of the stalk of bananas from the plant causes the initiation of all ripening processes. The stem should be hung in a cool, shaded place to ripen. Bananas shipped to this country are harvested "3/4 full" or when about 3/4 of full size. Bananas need exposure to a naturally occurring gas called ethylene to ripen properly. Removal of the stalk from the plant naturally causes the production of ethylene gas and ripening of the bananas. To hurry the ripening process, homeowners can “gas” bananas by placing them in a plastic bag with a sliced apple, which naturally emits the gas. The banana ripening process begins slowly, then proceeds at a very fast rate, with most of the fruit ripening at once. Without the addition of the apple to generate ethylene gas, a stalk of bananas hanging in an air-conditioned room will ripen the first cluster within 7 to 10 days. In a little more than 2 weeks, you will need make banana pudding in order to salvage the overripe.
Many people indicate that they have the best results with banana plants growing around an air conditioning unit. The ideal growing condition for bananas is rainfall frequent enough to keep available water in as much of the root zone soil as possible at all times. The banana is very sensitive to water deficits and the drainage hose on the air conditioning unit insures a continuous supply of quality water. If adequate water is not available, soils to a depth of 6 feet or more are used to permit development of a root system great enough to prevent injurious water deficits during periods of sunny days. Texans only have 6 inches of soil so we compensate with a leaky air conditioner drain!
Will you have a banana crop again next year? Probably not. But, if you believe in global warming, maybe so! If this area of Texas does slip by with another mild winter, you can expect to harvest some home?grown bananas. You can beat the weather by simply trimming off the large leaves where they fork at the trunk; spading a circle 8 to 10 inches deep some 12 inches from the base of a large, non?fruited plant and pulling the leafless trunk out of the ground. (Keep in mind that plants die after they bear fruit). You then transport the heavy, hunk of banana tree carcass to a temperature?moderated area such as the garage. If you can keep the plant from freezing, it will survive and produce bananas next year.
Elaborate storage is not necessary. Just stand the plant with root-ball exposed in the corner of the garage. No watering is necessary during the winter. The banana plant is 99 percent water, anyway. In fact, the plant may even continue to grow a bit in your garage. Next March, when all danger of hard freezes have pasted, cart the plant back to your planting area, dig a hole the same size and depth as the existing root system of the banana plant, plop it in and get ready for some more monkey food. You may have to brace the plant for a few weeks until it re-establishes its root system.
More About Bananas
1) The Filipinos told me that the bananas were fully grown when the blossom would turn a very dark red (maroon). At the beginning, the banana stalk has bananas growing straight up into the air, with a bright red blossom on top of the stalk. Then, as the bananas become larger, the stalk gets heavy and the bananas hang down or over, with the blossom hanging down even further. When this blossom loses its bright color and turns much darker, the bananas will not get any bigger and can be harvested.
2) Even more important, the Filipinos told me that it is very important not to harvest the bananas by cutting the stalk from the tree, but to make certain that the whole tree is cut down. So, if you just cut the bananas off the tree, this plant will not develop a new center growth, and therefore, not produce any more bananas. Whereas, if you cut the WHOLE banana tree down, this tree will develop a new center growth, and you will get more bananas from that same tree.
3) The Filipinos also taught me the trick of cutting down a whole banana tree. The trunk of a banana tree is very fibrous and hard to cut if you do not know what you are doing. You can hack away at your banana plant with a machete all day long at a right?angle, and more than likely you will not be able to cut the tree down, not too neatly at least. Whereas, if you take your machete and wack at the banana tree at a 45 degree angle, you will be able to cut the banana down much, much more easily.
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