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Banana (Musa Cavendishii)

Various varieties are grown for their fruit, and they are an important food crop - growing well between the latitudes of 29 N and 29 S - but others are grown to produce local wine, dye and Manila hemp.

Botanically, a banana is an angled berry, most used as fruit are six-sided and seedless; varying from 10-15cm/4-6 ins long, by the time we see them in shops.

Bananas are the most prolific of food plants - in six months a plant grows from an "eye" to being twice as tall as a man. In a further six months the fruit begins to form, and in a further three is ready to be cut. When the "tree" has cropped, it's cut down, and another planted. One acre can yield up to 800 bunches a year - some 9 million calories, more than any above-ground crop.

When Europeans "discovered" early bananas in what is now Queensland, Australia; they were described by Joseph Banks (who accompanied Captain Cook on his early voyages) as a "kind of wild plantain whose fruit was so full of stones that it was scarcely eatable". Today's fruit, are the results of much selection and recent hybridisation.

However, it's possible that the Arabs grew bananas thousands of years before - indeed, The Koran says that the hidden fruit in the Garden of Eden was a banana, not an apple; and a fruit of this type is mentioned during the time of Alexander the Great when he crossed the Indus river in 327BC.

The name comes from 15th century Portuguese explorers who found the fruit on Africa's west coast and picked-up the name the Guinea natives used for it - which sounded to them like "banana".

The Cavendish banana can be grown in greenhouses in Britain, but a temperature of 18C/65F must be maintained during winter months, variations will make the fruit fall before it's fully ripe - maximum sunlight is also important. Even when picked and stored, temperature is crucial - as anyone who's put them in the fridge will know, as their skin will go black. Most modern fruiting varieties are sterile, and can't be reproduced from seed. Generally, those offered by seedsmen, produce fruits as inedible as the early fruits.

In the wild bananas rely on bats for pollination.

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