Thursday, 28 February 2008

Yes we have more bananas

The last post and a follow up article from the Economist sent to me by Janeway has brought me back to my childhood in Africa.

The title of this post is taken from a song my father used to sing, completely out of tune as always. When we lived in Malawi he translated it, very roughly, into Nyanja. Purely from memory it went something like this (and I could be horribly wrong):

Inde palibe ntochi
Palibe ntochi lero

I remember too a conversation discussing whether all fruits have seeds. I racked my brains and finally said that bananas don't have seeds. But of course they do in the wild.

wild banana with large seeds

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

The seeds are hard and rather large. The first edible varieties probably arose by random mutation and it's thought they may have been cultivated for as long as 10,000 years

From the Economist article (no link as it is subscription only)

Cultivated bananas, like their cousins, the tropical staples cassava and taro, have a characteristic that makes them ideal food. They have no seeds. Unfortunately, the same characteristic means that it is fiendishly difficult to breed better bananas. This is an important task, as bananas are threatened by new kinds of pests and diseases. Furthermore, because bananas are clones, whole plantations could be devastated by such an attack.

The United Nations estimates that bananas are the fourth most important crop in the world, after wheat, rice and maize.

Leuven, as mentioned in my previous post, is the "banana capital" of the world. It houses 1,175 different varieties grown as tiny plants in test tubes. They have recently developed a less labour intensive method of storage, ways of deep-freezing banana samples. They have been able to show that, after five years in liquid nitrogen, banana cell suspensions can be recovered and turned into growing plants. And it is a second copy of all these samples that has been transported to Montpellier in the south of France.


  1. Thanks for the update! I have now linked you in my post on the new Seed Vault at Svalbard :-) Glad to know we won't lose bananas....I love them!

  2. Very interesting.
    I do eat sedless grapes, even pears no a days seems to be more or less seedless.
    Talking about Seeds. Did you know that this week was the opening of the Worlds Seedbank, at Spitzbergen. They are frozen and stored in to the Mountains. In case of an acocalypse or some other kinds of catastrophe, where there is need for local seed to be brought back. An important conservation of world heritage, so to speak

  3. @Diane, thanks for the link, and I have added yours to my earlier post.
    @Tor, I hadn't thought about the seedless grapes, and we too do eat them. Presumably they are propogated artificailly too.


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