Do Bananas Have Seeds?
You’ve seen those little black specks in the typical grocery store banana. I was taught that those are the seeds. Actually those are the immature seeds. Most of the bananas that Americans can buy in the grocery never develop fully functional seeds. Which leads to a question.
How Do Growers Breed Bananas?
If bananas don’t produce seeds, how would you breed them for better flavor or larger size or any of the other wonderful characteristics that you might wish to enhance?
The answer is that: You don’t. You can’t. While the grocery store banana does produce flowers that you could conscientiously cross pollinate, the end result is… nada. With no seeds there is nothing to demonstrate the results of your careful pollination choices.
How Does a Banana Reproduce?
So without seeds how does a banana reproduce? This is an especially important question since the banana has a limited lifespan. Each stem grows up and up, produces one large, multi-part flower that develops into heavy fruit that bends the stem back down and down.
Humans harvest the fruit by partially cutting the fruitful stem at the base to allow the banana bunch to descend gently into the arm’s a of banana harvester. But whether the stem is cut or not, a stem with fruit has effectively finished its mission on this earth and dies.
New stems rise from the root. Lots and lots of new stems. Banana ranchers usually cut back all of the stems except the strongest one to generate another large batch of bananas a year and a half later. If the gardener allowed all of the stems to grow, the result would be lots and lots and LOTS of bite-sized bananas.
In nature bananas just spread with new shoots from the root gradually migrating farther and farther from the parent stem. To create a “new plant” the gardener simply transplants part of a root.
Grocery Store Bananas Are Clones
The interesting fact is that typical grocery store bananas ALL come from the same plant. And I do mean the SAME plant.
The variety is called the Cavendish and as soon as it lost its ability to produce seeds, all of its “descendents” have come from the same root. That root may have been divided and transported and planted into multiple different countries, multiple continents even. But every last one of them came from THE SAME ORIGINAL plant.
They are clones, naturally occurring clones, with identical DNA. Without sexual reproduction and the resulting gene mixing and mutations, they cannot evolve to be anything other than what they already are.
Are Bananas Going Extinct?
Perhaps you have seen the warning circulating on the Internet that bananas are about to go extinct, with the advice to hurry and stuff your face while you still can!!!
What is true is that the popular Cavendish banana is vulnerable to a particular Asian fungus called Tropical Race 4. There is no known way to prevent or cure the plant of the fungus and it has been spreading. That particular fungus has already decimated an earlier variety of grocery store banana called the Gros Michel in the 1950s. So yes, the Cavendish is likely to go extinct. Smithsonian Magazine
The good news is that there are other varieties of bananas. Hundreds of them. Some of them are smaller, and much more flavorful. And some of them even have seeds.
Long live the banana!