The Sex Life of Musa acuminata

Banana flowers and young fruits
Banana flowers and young fruits

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never evaluated the sex life of one of the most common tropical fruits in households – Musa acuminata, also known as the banana.  Today’s cultivated bananas are unusual in that they are flowering plants that don’t actually have sex.  Large, showy flowers like that of the banana are designed to seduce pollinators that aid in sexual reproduction.  However, the banana you pick up at the grocery store is a byproduct of parthenocarpy; a process lacking pollination and therefore producing no seeds.

While traveling along the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, you’re sure to notice large tracts of land that are home to banana plantations.  Banana cultivation is thought to have originated in India as early as 500 B.C. and the plant was transported to Africa soon after.  The exact date of banana introduction in Costa Rica is not known, but the first commercial plantations were established in the 1870’s.  Banana production is big business in Costa Rica and bananas hold the number two spot for agricultural product.  Pineapples are first and coffee places third.

 Since bananas lack seeds, propagation is done by planting part of the corm (underground stem).  A corm can send up multiple shoots that each produce one cluster of bananas and then die back.  In the Costa Rican growing fields, you’ll often see a cluster of three shoots – one that has died back, one with bananas, and a young one.  The blue bags surrounding the bananas create a greenhouse effect to facilitate ripening and to keep bugs at bay.  It’s the female flower that becomes a fruit, but male flower clusters are also edible.

 The next time you peel open a ripe banana, maybe you’ll think of the not-so-sordid sex life of this tropical fruit.  I guess you could say that Musa acuminata’s sex life is really one of abstinence.

Banana leaves