My Walkabout Plants


Bunch of bananas

Banana trees


Banana trees

Genus:  Musa.


Common Name: Banana.

Etymology: Latinization of the Arabic name ‘Mauz’.

History: The banana is thought to have originally grown in the region that includes the Malaya Peninsula, Indonesia, The Philippines and New Guinea, having grown there for some 10,000 years. From here traders and travelers took them to India and Polynesia as there are records in Buddhist scriptures dating back to 600 BC. From here it is thought that Arabs spread them to Madagascar and Africa. The name Banana is believed to have come from the Arabs. The bananas of that era were only tiny compared to today (roughly the size of a finger) and the Arab word for finger is ‘banan’. Alexander the Great invaded India in 327 BC and from here introduced the banana to the Western world. By 200 AD bananas were growing in southern China but, incredibly, were not popular until the 20th century considered too strange and exotic. Speaking of the Chinese, the authorities that be, have recently put a ban on people filming themselves eating bananas erotically, the banana has become a little too popular with the Chinese it seems. In the 16th century the Portuguese discovered bananas in West Africa and took the banana to the new world. These bananas would have resembled todays as (in Africa around 650 AD) the cross breeding of two varieties Musa acuminata and Musa baalbisiana would see the banana become larger and have much less seeds than the original variety. The first recorded sale of bananas in England was in 1633 and, being a more tropical fruit, were quite expensive at the time. England is also where the hugely popular ‘Cavendish’ banana was named. William George Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790–1858) was a politician who had a huge interest in Horticulture, even establishing the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew as a national botanic garden. In 1829 Cavendish’s gardener, Joseph Paxton propagated the original Cavendish (imported from Mauritius) in a hothouse. His plant finally flowered in 1835, it was loaded with more than 100 bananas and one a medal at that years Horticultural show. All Cavendish bananas around the world have derived from this banana, popular because of their resistance to transportation and disease. The banana arrived in Australia in the 1800’s and is now a popular crop around most of the warmer parts of the country. Ecuador is currently the worlds biggest exporter of bananas.

Basic description: The banana is a tall flowering perenial herb (in fact the tallest) that can grow up to 15m but usually to around 5m (it is distantly related to ginger and heliconia). Although the above ground parts die after fruiting they send out suckers at the base (this is why it is considered perennial). All of the above ground parts of the plant grow from a corm on what appears to be a trunk but is actually a pseudo-stem. The leaves are made up of a petiole and lamina that at the base form a tight sheath that is the pseudo-stem, new growth coming up through the middle. When the banana plant is mature the plant stops producing leaves and produces an inflorescence flower ‘banana heart’ from which the bananas fruit develop in a large hanging cluster.

10 Uses for Bananas: Apart from the fact that bananas are most likely the favorite and most consumed fruit on the planet they are extremely good for you. They are high in potassium and pectin and are good way to get magnesium, vitamin C and B6. Bananas are high in antioxidants and are known to reduce swelling, help protect against (type 2) diabetes, aid in weight loss and strengthen the immune system. They are also good for:

  • Attracting birds, butterflies and bees to your house with overripe banana.
  • Good food for babies first solid meal and a totally safe dog treat.
  • Hangover cure (in a smoothie with some honey).
  • Leaf can be used as a natural plate or serving dish.
  • Mulch and a fertilizer for your garden.
  • Popular as a snack on their own or in many recipes, cakes, ice-cream and drinks.
  • Regular consumption can reduce the risk of stroke by up to 40% and numerous other health benefits such as improving mood, normalizing blood pressure and heartbeat.
  • Skin can be used as a cure for warts and swelling caused by mosquito bites, shoe and silverware cleaner, teeth whitener or facial.
  • Water purifier, (positively charged) heavy metals in dirty water are attracted to (negatively charged) banana skin acids significantly cleaning water.
  • The plant itself is a fantastic addition to create that tropical garden look.
Banana requirements & maintenance: pH 5.5-6.5 (very acid to acid) Best suited in a sub-tropical to tropical climate but can be grown in much cooler climates with a very warm, sheltered, frost free position. Prefers full sun and shelter from wind to avoid shredded leaves that devalues the plants look and fruiting capability and may even blow plant over. Soil should be deep and well drained, bananas require frequent watering and heavy feeding for good results.

Growing season: Not applicable, the time between planting and picking bananas is roughly 9 months but can take considerably longer in cooler climates. The banana can be harvested when fully formed but still green and left to ripen indoors. It is worth while covering the bunch while it is forming with a bag (left open at the bottom) to protect the bananas from insects

Companion plants:

  • Beans and legumes: Use banana for support while supplying nitrogen to soil.

Problem Solving without chemicals:

  • Aphid: Small black sap sucking insect 1mm-2mm usually clustering around new growth. Spray with soapy water, White oil, Neem oil or blast off with hose. Introduce predatory insects such as ladybirds, hover-flies and lacewings. Ants will discourage predators so need to be controlled as well.
  • Anthracnose: Fungus that remains dorment on dead banana material and spread to young fruit in warmer months by splashing water remaining dormant there until the onset of ripening. It causes small, light brown, circular spots that quickly get bigger until the whole fruit is rotted. Maintain good hygiene ensuring dead material is removed from in and around the banana tree. Avoid damage from sucking insects.
  • Bacterial soft rot: A bacteria common in both soil and on plant surface usually causing problems in damp conditions. The fruit has a darkened metallic sheen externally and internally is grey to black and soft with a putrid smell. There is no treatment for effected crop (organic or chemical). Discard damaged fruit, do not harvest fruit in wet weather, try not to damage fruit and follow good hygiene practices.
  • Banana bract mosaic disease: (Serious quarantine disease)  Virus that damages banana plants causing malformed bunches and undeveloped fingers spread from four types of aphids. Can be seen as red-brown mosaic pattern on flower bract and as red-brown streaks on exposed banana stem. Contact Biosecurity Hotline.
  • Banana flower thrips: Small slender thrip (males .75mm and pale straw colour, females bright orange and black). Fruit damage is caused by feeding and oviposition. Introduce predatory bugs such as ladybird, beetles and lacewing and remove male ‘bell’ once all hands are exposed.
  • Banana fruit caterpiller: 60mm long khaki coloured caterpiller chewing banana skin (down to the flesh with large ones). Remove caterpillers by hand.
  • Banana rust thrips: Small yellow thrip to 1.5mm long that shelter on leaves and between fruit. Skin on fruit becomes rough and appears red, on small fruit can cause the skin to split as pulp grows inside, is only superficial on more mature fruit. Use soap spray.
  • Banana scab moth: Moth that lays eggs that resemble tiny fish scales. The larvae of these feed apon young fruit causing superficial (black callous) scarring on young fruit. No treatment is required when growing these in your backyard as damage will not effect fruit just look of skin.
  • Banana spotting bug: Bug elongated in shape about 15mm long (very similar to fruit-spotting bug but a slightly lighter green). Sap sucking causes water-soaked area from which sap exudes and drys white later with narrow cracks around them. Avoid planting trees close to native bushland. Assassin bugs and spiders prey on bug.
  • Banana Weevil borer: 12mm long, creamy white with brown head, larvae of weevil that bore into corm and pseudo stem causing rotting breakdown and collapse of plant. Keep area clean around the banana, cut and remove infected plants.
  • Bunchy top: Virus that causes bunched upright banana leaves with yellow margins, also causing small deformed fruit or no fruit at all (It is spread short distances by the banana aphid and over long distances by infected plant material movement). Treat Aphid, totally destroy plant including cutting corm into small pieces and contact Biosecurity hotline.
  • Cluster caterpillar: Larvae of moth that lays eggs in groups of several hundred covered with brown fur from female body. They feed in clusters when young destroying one side of leaf then as they get larger they become solitary and can cause damage to new cigar shaped leaves. Damage to fruit is superficial. Remove eggs and larvae by hand.
  • Fruit fly: In summer flies lay their eggs in small groups just beneath the skin of the fruit, larvae make their way to centre of fruit and destroy it. Fruit will be full of maggots and inedible. Burn and destroy all fruit or seal fruit in plastic bag and leave in the sun for several days. The ‘Cera Trap’ and ‘Eco-Naturalure are new and effective organic fruit fly baits.
  • Fruit piercing moths: Moths with large yellow/orange spots at bottom of wings that feed by piercing fruit with proboscis and sucking out juice. Pick fruit before it ripens.
  • Fruit speckle: Fungus that causes fruit to be covered in tiny brown-black dots often with water soaked margins. Fungus lives in dead banana leaves and is spread to fruit only during wet humid weather. Good hygiene practices and removing all dead plant material is recommended.
  • Fruit-spotting bug: Australian native green-brown bug about 15mm long with prominent antennae that when disturbed will fly away or somersault to lower branches or quickly hide behind fruit and under leaves. Eggs are 1.7mm long, pale green and somewhat triangular. Both adults and nymphs feed by piercing fruit and sucking the juice from the tissue. They insert their long mouthparts into the fruit and in feeding, exude saliva containing enzymes that break down the cells damaging the fruit. Avoid planting trees close to native bushland. Assassin bugs and spiders prey on bug.
  • Leaf speckle: Disease that causes initial smoky discolouration on bottom of leaves followed by dark brown to black dots. Spores are spread by wind and grow in shaded damp areas of plant. Keep plant growing vigorously, remove and destroy diseased plant material.
  • Moko disease: (Serious quarantine disease) Species of bacterial wilt causing wilt in adult banana plants and banana vascular discolouration. Contact Biosecurity Hotline.
  • Panama disease: Race 4, effects all bananas and present in North Queensland. It is a fungus that starves the banana plant of water causing yellowing of older leaves initially that eventually collapse and die leaving a dead skirt around plant, splitting of trunk and discolouration of vascular system. Contact Biosecurity Hotline.
  • Sigatoka (Black and Yellow)Black Sigatoka is a fungal leaf spot disease and one of the most devastating leaf diseases of bananas around the world but not present in Australia. Yellow Sigatoka (leaf spot) is widespread in Australia and the disease is most common from May to October. It begins as yellow streaks (10mm long) on the third or forth youngest leaf that change to brown and elarge to oval spots. If infection is severe, the leaves become brown with black and grey streaks. Keep plant growing vigorously, remove and destroy diseased plant material.
  • Spider mite: Very small (less than 1mm) sap sucking mite. Adults are oval shaped, reddish brown or pale in colour. Visible as tight webs under leaves and along stems. They travel from plant to plant in their webs on the wind. Use Neem oil or introduce beneficial insects such as ladybugs and lacewing (its is worth noting that spraying with chemicals will kill these predatory insects making problem worse).
  • Two spotted mite: Pale green to yellow mite with a dark mark on each side of its body, 0.5mm long with 8 legs and spider like appearance. They suck the contents out of individual plant cells causing yellow mottled areas especially to the underside of leaf. A problem with this mite is a good indication of chemical insecticide overuse as mites are attacked by a myriad of predators. Introduce predatory bugs such as lacewing and ladybirds to garden.
  • Spiralling whitefly: Small 0.2mm long and look like tiny white moths in appearance and in their mode of flight. Whitefly females can lay up to 200 eggs on the bottom of leaves. Adults and their nymphs (in heavy infestations) are generally covered in a white, curly wax and sugar secretion that can lead to black sooty mold. Remove leaves, hose off or use sticky trap in bad infestations but generally small populations can be ignored. Introduce predatory bugs such as lacewing and ladybirds to garden. Spraying of insecticides will worsen the problem by strengthening immunity and killing preditors.

Growing Bananas: There are over 500 varities of bananas in the world but the two most common in Australia today are the Cavendish and Lady Fingers. Cavendish is a medium sized banana and developed to be more resistant to pests and diseases. Lady fingers is naturally sweeter and smaller than regular bananas and wont go brown when cut so good for fresh fruit salads. Bananas are highly regulated in Australia and should only be purchased from government approved sources and you will require a permit to grow them.

Banana plantation

I hope you have enjoyed this weeks edition of ‘My walkabout Plants’. I will be on holidays for the next couple of week so there wont be any posts until mid October. We are off to Singapore so will have some interesting blogs on the ‘Gardens by the Bay’ and ‘Botanic gardens’ coming up in, the not to distant, future. See you next time.


  • What Garden Pest and Disease is That by Judy McMaugh.
  • Wikipedia.
About Simon 93 Articles

Simon Schubert is a qualified Horticulturist who enjoys gardening and bush-walking. He has a keen interest in science, the natural world and particularly our environment. He would like to share his experiences and knowledge while learning better practices that will hopefully benefit the future for us all. Please join him on some fun adventures while learning about the life of plants and other interesting facts about our world.

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