Musa sp.

banana plant


Musa sp.

L. 1753

pronounced: MEW-suh species

(Musaceae — the banana family)


common name: banana

Musa is Latinized from the Arabic word for the banana, mohz.

The banana is not a tree, but the world’s largest herb. The plant is a native of south-east Asia, probably in the region of Malaysia. By way of curious visitors, bananas travelled from there to India, where they are mentioned in the Buddhist Pali writings dating back to the 6th century BC. In his campaign in India in 327 BC, Alexander the Great had his first taste of the banana. Some historians credit him with bringing back the first bananas to Europe. According to the Chinese historian Yang Fu, there were banana plantations in China in 200 AD. The fruit was considered exotic, and grew only in the south of the country; it did not become popular with the masses until the 20th century.

Eventually the banana reached Madagascar, and some time after 650 AD it was carried further west by Arab slave traders, and reached Guinea, on the west coast of Africa. By 1402 Portuguese sailors had discovered the fruit in their voyages down the west coast of Africa, and established plantations in the Canary Islands. Continuing the banana’s westward progress, rootstocks were packed on to a ship under the charge of Tomas de Berlanga, a Portuguese Franciscan friar who brought them from the Canaries to the Caribbean island of Santo Domingo in 1516. It wasn’t long before the banana became popular throughout the Caribbean and Central America.

These bananas were not the giant fruits we buy in the supermarket today. They were much smaller, about the size of a man’s finger.

It was almost 350 years later that Americans tasted the first bananas to arrive in their country. Wrapped in tin foil, bananas were sold for 10 cents each in Pennsylvania in 1876, at the commemoration of the centenary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence. They came with instructions in how to eat them:

Bananas are eaten raw, either alone or cut in slices with sugar and cream, or wine and orange juice. They are also roasted, fried or boiled, and are made into fritters, preserves and marmalades.

Bananas have been cultivated for so long that they have lost the ability to reproduce by seed. They are propagated either by division or by tissue culture, which means that the plants are genetically identical clones. The stems are layers of tightly-packed leaf-bases, and each new leaf is forced through the centre of the stem. When they flower, the first part of the flower to open is the male section, the bell; then the spirally arranged female flowers emerge, and develop into the fruit.

Bananas are very high in potassium, yet low in salt, making them ideal in helping to lower blood pressure. They have a high iron content, so can stimulate the production of haemoglobin in the blood, and help in cases of anaemia.

I am told that one of the best ways to cure a hangover is to drink a banana milkshake, sweetened with honey. The banana calms the stomach, and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels; while the milk soothes and re-hydrates the system.

The very important banana industry in Queensland is threatened by three diseases: bunchy top, Panama disease, and black Sigatoka, any one of which is capable of wiping out the industry. As part of the control of the diseases, everyone in Queensland, even the home gardener, requires an Inspector’s Certificate to move or plant bananas.

The caterpillars of the Banana Scab Moth Nacoleia octasema and the Sugarcane Bud Moth Opogona glycyphaga are pests on bananas, attacking the young fruit.


Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.


Photographs taken at Picnic Bay 2010-2012
Page last updated 9th February 2019