Blog: Bananas



Montane forest with ferns and Taiwan banana (Musa formosana), Malabang National Forest, near Hsinshu, northern Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Rainforest with ferns and an unidentified banana species, observed outside the Hindu temple Pura Batukaru, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The tall and sturdy banana plants are often called banana trees or banana palms, but both these terms are erroneous, as the plant is actually a huge herb, whose ‘trunk’ consists of thick layers of modified, closely packed leaf-stalks, forming a so-called pseudostem (false stem), also called a corm. These plants, comprising c. 30 species of the genus Musa, are native to subtropical and tropical areas, from India eastwards to Taiwan, and thence southwards through Southeast Asia, Indonesia, and New Guinea to northern Australia.

       Bananas were probably first domesticated in New Guinea, and today they are cultivated worldwide in warmer countries. Most are grown for their edible fruits, raw or cooked, the latter often called plantains. Other types are cultivated for their fibres, to make wine and beer, or as ornamentals.

       Today, almost all edible bananas are cultivars of two wild species, Musa acuminata and M. balbisiana, and the hybrid between them, called Musa × paradisiaca. Formerly, the scientific name of edible bananas was Musa sapientum, which is no longer accepted.

       Other species of banana include the scarlet Musa coccinea and the pink M. velutina, and the term also refers to members of the genus Ensete, likewise in the banana family (Musaceae), including snow banana (E. glaucum) and false banana (E. ventricosum).


Various types of bananas for sale, Kannimera Market, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Bananas, pumpkins, and lemons for sale at a market, Nyaung Shwe, Lake Inle, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


At the ‘floating market’ in Damnoensaduak, Thailand, this woman is selling fried bananas from her boat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Pseudostems of banana plants are loaded onto a truck, Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Some types of cooking bananas are very large. – Sarawak, Borneo. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Banana leaves grow in spirals and may be up to 2.7 m long and 60 cm wide. These huge leaves have a wide range of usage, being both flexible and waterproof. They are much used for wrapping, including in cooking, where various foods are often wrapped in the leaves before being steamed. In various Hindu and Buddhist ceremonies, the leaves are used as decoration, often having a symbolic meaning. In former times, in South and Southeast Asia, banana leaves were used as writing material. Before the introduction of plastic materials, they were also utilized in many areas as rain ponchos.


Banana leaves may grow up to 2.7 m long and 60 cm wide. These pictures are from south-western Sri Lanka (top), eastern Taiwan (centre), and Cambodia. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


When this leaf of Taiwan banana (Musa formosana) was young and still rolled up, insect larvae made tunnels through it, and when the leaf unfolded, these patterns were revealed. – Malabang National Forest, Hsinshu, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


On this banana leaf, observed near Guoxing, western Taiwan, the shadow of a leaf with a fate similar to the one described above, creates the outline of a robot-like creature with an angular head. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


This shadow of a banana leaf, photographed at the foot of the Rinjani Volcano, Lombok, Indonesia, resembles a gaping creature, wearing a tall hat. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


A young and rolled-up banana leaf casts a shadow on an older leaf, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Rain water, running down a leaf of Taiwan banana, Malabang National Forest, Hsinshu, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The huge banana leaves are often tattered, torn by the wind.


A collection of pictures, showing tattered banana leaves, all from Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


This tattered banana leaf, observed on the island of Lombok, Indonesia, resembles a wig. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Withering banana leaves often show very beautiful patterns.


These pictures are all from Taiwan. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



When a banana plant is mature, a stem develops inside the pseudostem, emerging at the top of the plant, carrying a single, huge inflorescence. The fruits grow in several large clusters, sitting in rows down the stout flower stalk, each containing between 10 and 30 bananas. They are so heavy that the stalk is bent downwards.


Flower and fruits, Pokhara, Nepal. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Flower, seen from below, Taichung, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Fallen bracts of an inflorescence, Gukeng, Taiwan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Clusters of bananas on a flower stalk, Kannimera Market, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, South India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The Taiwan banana (Musa formosana), which grows to 6 m tall, is endemic to Taiwan, growing on forested slopes, from near sea level to c. 1,000 m altitude.


Foggy montane forest with Taiwan banana, Malabang National Forest, near Hsinshu. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Bamboo forest with Taiwan banana, near Yuantan Waterfall. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Shadows from ferns create patterns on leaves of Taiwan banana, Malabang National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)


Fruits of Taiwan banana, Malabang National Forest. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Monkeys and apes love bananas, as is evident from the following three pictures. – Read more about these animals elsewhere on this website, see Animals: Monkeys and apes.


Orangutans are closely related to humans – a fact which is also seen from their name, which means ‘Forest Man’ in the Malay, from orang (’Man’), and utan (’forest’). Formerly, orangutans were regarded as a single species, Pongo pygmaeus, confined to rainforests of Sumatra and Borneo. Lately, however, it has been split into three separate species, the Bornean orangutan (P. pygmaeus), found in Borneo, the Sumatran orangutan (P. abelii), which is restricted to northern Sumatra, and the Tapanuli orangutan (P. tapanuliensis), which lives in an area of just 1,500 km2 in central Sumatra.

       During the last century, orangutans have declined drastically and are now in danger of extinction, the main reason for the decline being habitat destruction, as areas of rainforest have been cleared by the timber industry and converted into oil palm plantations and farmland. Another reason is that poachers shoot female orangutans to get hold of their young, which are sold to zoos or others.

       In Borneo, a number of rehabilitation centres for orangutans have been established. At these centres, orphaned young orangutans, which have been confiscated from poachers, are trained to live in the forest, after which they are released into safe areas, such as national parks. In 1985, I visited the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre, near the town of Sandakan, Sabah. Read about this visit elsewhere on this website, see Travel episodes – Borneo 1985: Visiting orangutans.


This eight-year-old orangutan, named Juliana, lives in the forest around Sepilok. Occasionally, she comes to the centre to get bananas. She lost an arm, when she climbed a pole and got an electric shock. Her left arm became lame and had to be amputated. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



Of the 23 species of macaque (Macaca), the long-tailed macaque (M. fascicularis) is the most widespread, found from Bangladesh, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam, south to the Indonesian Archipelago, and thence east to the Philippines. This species, which is also called crab-eating macaque, lives in a wide range of habitats, including mangrove, forests, agricultural areas near forest, and temple groves.


This young long-tailed macaque is stuffing itself with bananas. It lives in the forest around the Wenara Wana Temple (popularly called ‘Monkey Forest’), near Ubud, Bali, Indonesia. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



The rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta) is the well-known brown monkey of India, found almost everywhere in the country north of the Tapti and Godavari Rivers. Its total area of distribution is from Afghanistan eastwards through Pakistan, India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, and thence north to central China.


This young rhesus monkey is feeding on a banana outside the Buddhist temple on Mount Popa, Myanmar. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)



(Uploaded February 2019)