The banana is an edible fruit, botanically a berry produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called plantains. The fruits grow in clusters hanging from the top of the plant. Almost all modern edible parthenocarpic (seedless) bananas come from two wild species – Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. Musa species are native to tropical Indomalaya and Australia, and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. They are grown in at least 107 countries, primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make fiber, banana wine and banana beer and as ornamental plants.
The banana may also have been present in isolated locations in the Middle East on the eve of Islam. The spread of Islam was followed by far-reaching spread of the banana. By the 10th century the banana appears in texts from Palestine and Egypt. From there it diffused into North Africa and Muslim Iberia. During the medieval ages, bananas from Granada were considered among the best in the Arab world. In 650, Islamic conquerors brought the banana to Palestine. In fact, it is thought that the word banana comes from the Arabic word "banan", meaning finger
Not long after the arrival of sugar, via Columbus, the island of Hispaniola receives a consignment of banana plants (long cultivated in tropical Asia). These become an important part of the economy of Latin America leading to monopolies and to the pejorative term “Banana Republic”.
In the 1820s and 1830s, British botanists in the United Kingdom’s overseas colonies became fascinated with the banana plant and fruit. Englishman Charles Telfair, enamored with the bananas he encountered on his journeys around the Indian Ocean and China, began a collection of plantain plants on the island Mauritius. In 1829, he shipped a couple of banana plants to an acquaintance in England, where they eventually passed into the hands of the 7th Duke of Devonshire, William Cavendish, upon his acquaintance’s passing. Cavendish was able to cultivate the plants, and the Cavendish banana was formally recognized as a cultivar in 1836. From England, the cultivar was subsequently diffused back into the tropical zones.
The bananas you find in the average U.S. grocery store are pretty much the same as they were in the 19th century- the genetic variety known as Cavendish which is cultivated for commercial markets. This large agro-monoculture approach is susceptible to a rapidly spreading fungus, Tropical Race 4, which decimated an earlier species in the 1950’s.Plant breeding programs are quickly working to replace Cavendish with new variety introductions to avoid another Banana calamity!