Musa sapientum

The Latin name usually given to the edible bananas and plantains (but not the Fe'i banana). Both the taxonomy and the common usage terms are confused. A banana is a sweet fruit that is eaten raw and ripe. A plantain is a starchy fruit that is usually eaten cooked and either ripe or unripe. As a fruit, bananas are second only to grapes in commercial importance.

The bananas are Old World, Monocotyledons and they are the largest of herbs. (It is incorrect to speak of the banana 'tree', as it has no woody tissues. The so-called 'trunk' is a pseudostem made up a fibrous true stem surrounded and supported by leaf sheaths.) The fruits are sterile because the plant is a triploid and usually has both male and female gametic sterility as well. Definitely not a crop for amateur breeders .

For the first half of the twentieth century, bananas were cultivated in such large acreages, mainly by the United Fruit

Company, in the countries surrounding the Caribbean, that these countries were known as 'Banana Republics'. The cultivation of one perennial clones ('Gros Michel') in huge acreages, in climatic conditions permanently favourable to epidemics, was probably the largest and most enduring monoculture ever achieved. This monoculture was eventually ruined by a number of different parasites, and this indicates that the very serious pests and diseases are damaging mainly because we cultivate susceptible crops, and not because of any inherent savagery of the parasite.

The first of these destructive parasites was Panama disease (Fusarium oxysporum f.sp., cubense). Many incorrectly blame the disease, when it was undoubtedly the monoculture that was at fault. Another major disease was a bacterial wilt (Moko disease) caused by Pseudomonas solanacearum. More recently, Sigatoka disease (Mycosphaerella musicola), and Black Sigatoka disease (Mycosphaerella fijiensis) have become important. The most important insect pest is the banana weevil (Cosmopolites sordidus). It seems that these are all new encounter parasites, as bananas are very ancient clones that have been cultivated for millennia without serious parasites in their centre of origin in S.E. Asia. Musa textilis

Manila hemp, or abaca. This fibre was the finest of the plant fibres and was used extensively for the highest quality ropes in fishing and shipping. It has now been supplanted by plastic ropes, but it is still in demand for extra strong papers, such as tea bags. The fibres are retted out of the outer sheaths of the petioles that form the pseudo-stem. Musaceae

The banana and ensete family. Mushroom

The macroscopic sporing body of a fungus. Mushrooms usually have gills, while toadstools have pores. Both edible and poisonous mushrooms occur. The cultivation of edible mushrooms is economically important, but breeding of this crop by amateur breeders is not recommended. Mustard

See: Brassica spp.

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