There's onion in bananas?

'Musa acuminata' - 'Dwarf Cavendish'. Photo by Linda Robertson.
'Musa acuminata' - 'Dwarf Cavendish'. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Banana plants are a bit like onions. Why is this, you may ask?

The fruit does not look or taste anything like onions and is not closely related, but the false fleshy stem of the banana plant is made up of layers called a pseudostem.

These are formed by upright layers of leaf sheaths packed closely together forming a trunk. When cut, it looks like an onion with all its layers.

The pseudostem protects the true stem which starts out as an underground corm and grows up through the centre of the false stem. It will eventually push out through the top of the plant and is what the flowers and fruit are produced on.

It is strong as it must support the weight of the large inflorescence and the bunches of bananas.

A large purple flower bud appears at the top of the plant and as this opens and elongates, small white flowers can be seen in double rows around the stem.

The first 5-15 rows are female flowers and will develop into bananas after about 100 days of ripening.

• Each stem will produce only one huge flower bud and bunch of fruit before dying.

• New stems are produced from rhizomes at the base of the plant.

• Bananas are reported to be the fourth-largest fruit crop in the world and are found in every humid tropical region.

• Bananas are large herbaceous perennials but don't die back in winter due to the lack of seasons in tropical regions.

• Only one stem should be allowed to fruit and flower at any one time. Excess shoots should be removed to channel all the plants energy into fruit production.

- Stephen Bishop is curator of the winter garden glasshouse at Dunedin Botanic Garden.

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