The much loved Cavendish banana is under threat

This, my good readers, is my lengthy Christmas read for you. Lengthy, insomuch as there are many links to open to get the full story.

This article is all about banana’s, Britain’s role in their popularity, their threat from disease, and a photo montage of banana production in the Canary Islands.

I like bananas. It was therefore a surprise to hear that they are under threat from disease. This is what I heard on the BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme on 5th August this year, The Banana – fascinating history, uncertain future, and podcast below,

We holidayed in La Palma, one of the Canary Islands in October. It seemed every spare piece of land was occupied by a banana plantation. The radio programme came back to me, so much so that we peeked into plantations, packing sheds, and even a recently opened banana museum.

First, the fascinating history of the Cavendish banana, as the radio programme title says. It’s history is told in detail HERE. In brief, the best known variety of banana today is the Cavendish, named after William Spencer Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire. In the mid 1820’s some plants were brought to England, where after several years Joseph Paxton, the Duke’s renowned gardener, propagated a derivative in the Duke’s glasshouses known as the Cavendish banana.

Why is the Cavendish so popular? It’s a resilient banana variety, has greater disease resistance than other varieties, is tasty, easily transported long distances, and much liked by supermarkets for its uniform size and colour.

Let’s begin with what is a banana? [taken from Pat Heslop-Harrison’s article linked to below]:

“Bananas hold a world record: they are the world’s largest herbaceous plant, with many being 5 m or 15 feet tall. They are not trees since they do not have a trunk or produce wood – the stem (‘pseudo-stem’) is actually mostly made up of leaf bases, like a grass. After flowering and producing the fruit, which takes 9 to 12 months, the stem is cut back, and another side-sucker allowed to grow to produce the next generation. After 2 to 8 crops, the plants are replaced typically with new, disease free plants.”

Now, lets hear all about the threat to bananas, and the Cavendish in particular. Plant biology scientist – Pat Heslop-Harrison, the expert on the BBC radio programme, has an easily digestible (sic) article about Bananas and their future, and earlier one HERE, plus a scientific paper on the topic Banana Molecular Cytogenetics for the scientific geeks among you.

Press articles for your further reading, We have no bananas in the New Yorker, World’s banana supply at risk from increasing number of bugs and spread of fungal disease reported on 17th December 2013 in the Daily Mail.

Here’s my photo montage of banana production in the Canary Islands.

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