Musa chinensis Sweet. Scitamineae. Chinese Dwarf Banana.
China. This very delicious plantain, says Firminger, is of a rich and peculiar flavor. The fruits are borne in enormous bunches, each fruit about 10 inches long, of moderate and uniform shape and thickness, and when ripe are pea-green in color. The bananas are exceedingly difficult to obtain in perfection, as they are uneatable until quite ripe, and on becoming ripe, commence almost immediately to decay. This variety, in 1841, was grown in abundance for the table of the King of France at Versailles and Menton. In 1867, young plants of this dwarf banana were sent to Florida from the United States Department of Agriculture, and now they may be seen quite generally in gardens there. It is quite frequently fruited in greenhouses, being of easy culture and management. Hawkins, 1593, saw small, round, plantains, "green when they are ripe " in Brazil.
Musa ensete J. F. Gmel. Abyssinian Banana.
Tropical Africa. The fruit is dry and inedible, containing a few large, stony seeds, but, says Masters, the base of the flower-stalk is cooked and eaten by the natives. Unger says the fruit is not palatable and is rarely eaten, but the white, marrowy portion of the young stems, freed from the rind and cooked, has the taste of the best wheat bread and, dressed with milk and butter, supplies a very excellent, wholesome diet. The plant occurs even in the Egyptian antiques and seems to have been more widely distributed at an earlier period than at the present. There are large plantations of it at Maitsha and Goutto. The tree grows about 20 feet high and is a striking ornament in our best conservatories.
Musa maculata Jacq. Banana.
Mauritius Islands. The fruit is very spicy and of excellent flavor. This is a tender banana not profitable for cultivation above south Florida.
Musa rosacea Jacq. Banana.
Tropical Asia. This is the vai of Cook, the fahie of Wilkes, the fae of the natives. It was seen by Wilkes in groves in Tahiti, the fruit borne on an upright spike, of the shape of the banana but twice as large and of a deep golden hue, with pulp of a dark orange color. It is destitute of seeds, of high flavor and greatly esteemed by the natives. On the Fiji Islands, it is found cultivated. The fruit is eaten either roasted or boiled. Ellis says there are nearly 20 kinds of wild bananas, very large and serviceable, in the mountains of Tahiti. In India, says Firminger, this species is called ram kela and, when in good condition, is a remarkably fine fruit. The fruit is about seven inches long and rather thin, at first of a very dark red, but ripening to a yellowish-red.
Musa sapientum Linn. Adam's Fig. Banana. Plantain.
In general, says Humboldt, the musa, known by every people in the Torrid Zone, though hitherto never found in a wild state, has as great a variety of fruit as the apple or pear. The names "plantain" and "banana" are very discriminately applied, but the term plantain is usually restricted to the larger plants whose fruits are eaten cooked, while the term banana is given to sorts whose fruits are eaten raw. The plantain, says Forster, varies almost ad infinitum, like our apple. At Tongatabu, says Captain Cook, they have 15 sorts of plantain. In Tenasserim, says Simmonds, there are 20 varieties, in Ceylon 10 and in Burma 30. The Dacca plantain is 9 inches long. In Madagascar, the plantains are as large as a man's forearm. In the mountains of the Philippines, a single bunch is said to be a load for a man. The banana is cultivated in more varieties in India than is the plantain, says Roxburgh. The plantain is abundant in Africa, according to Burton and other African travelers. In Peru, according to Herndon and others, it abounds. One of the dainties of the Mosquito Indians, says Bancroft, is bis-bire, the name given to plantains kept in leaves till putrid; it is eaten boiled. The plantain is unquestionably of ancient culture, for one of the Mohammedan traditions is that the leaves used for girdles by Adam and Eve were plantain leaves. Plantains with fruit from 10 to 12 inches long were grown in Louisiana in 1855 and probably earlier. The flesh was eaten roasted, fried or boiled.
It seems probable that the plantain, or banana, was cultivated in South America before the discovery by Columbus. It seems indigenous to the hot regions of the Old World and the New, or at any rate to have been present in the New World before the discovery by Columbus, as banana leaves are found in the huacas, or Peruvian tombs, anterior to the Conquest. Bancroft says the Mexicans offered the "fat banana" at the shrine of the goddess Centeotl. Roxburgh found bananas growing wild on the coast of Coromandel. Hooker saw two species wild in the Himalayas. Rumphius and Blanco saw them in the Philippines. Finlayson found them in the small island of Pulo-ubi near Siam. Cook and others saw them in Tahiti, and Humboldt mentions the occasional occurrence of wild bananas in the forests of South America. Although the cultivated varieties of banana and plantain are usually seedless, yet some wild species produce seeds, and varieties of the cultivated form occasionally bear seeds. Thus, on the coast of Para, near the Gulf of Triste, and near Cumana, according to Humboldt, there are sorts with seeds; as there are at Manila, according to Meyen; and in Central Africa, according to Burton. The fruit of these is usually of poor quality. In Calcutta, 1503-08, Varthema mentions 3 kinds of bananas. Firminger, at the present time names 7 varieties, and Carey says the cultivated varieties in Bengal are infinite. In Tahiti, according to Ellis, not fewer than 30 varieties of bananas are cultivated by the natives. In the Fiji Islands, some 9 varieties are in cultivation according to Wilkes. In Cercado, on the Amazon, Castelanu says there is an enormous number of varieties of bananas. In Central Africa, Grant names 6 varieties. Ten varieties are given for Ceylon and 30 for Burma.
The garden of Adam in Seyllan (Ceylon), says Morignolli, about 1350, contains plantain trees which the natives call figs: "but the plantain has more the character of a garden plant than of a tree. At first they are not good to eat, but after they have been kept a while in the house they ripen of themselves and are then of an excellent odor and still better taste, and they are about the length of the longest of one's fingers." In Calicut, 1503-08, Varthema describes three sorts: "The first sort is called cianckapalon; these are very restorative things to eat. Their color is somewhat yellow, and the bark is very thin. The second sort is called cadelapalon, and they are much superior to the others. The third sort are bitter." The head of the flowers of the variety known as kuntela, before the sheath in which they are enclosed expands, is often cut off, being esteemed a most delicate vegetable.
In the Malay Archipelago, says Wallace, many species occur wild in the forests and some produce edible fruits. In 1591, at the Nicobar Islands, near Sumatra, the plantain was seen by May. At Batavia, in 1770, Captain Cook found innumerable sorts but only three were good eating, although others were used for cooking. In New Guinea, in 1770, he found plantains flourishing in a state of the highest perfection. Le Maire, 1616, says this fruit is called tachouner. In New Holland Captain Cook found the plantain tree bearing a very small fruit, the pulp well-tasted, but full of seeds, and in another place said to be so full of stones as scarcely to be edible. Both the banana and plantain are now cultivated in Australia in many varieties.
In Polynesia, Mendana, in 1595, mentions "very fine plantains" at Mendana Islands and elsewhere. In 1606, de Quiros saw plantains as appears from his memorial to the King of Spain. In 1588, Cavendish had "plantains" brought out in boats to his ships and in 1625 Prince Maurice of Nassau mentions bananas as brought to his ships. Easter Island, when discovered in 1722, had "plantains." In 1778, Captain Cook discovered the Sandwich Islands and found there the banana, and Wilkes, in 1840, says bananas and plantains are abundant. The Fiji Islands were discovered by Tasman in 1643, and they were visited by D'Urville in 1827, although there had been intervening arrivals of Europeans. In 1840 Wilkes found there five or six varieties of banana with insipid fruit and three varieties of plantain cultivated to a great extent, as also the wild species of Tahiti and Samoa. Tahiti was discovered by Wallis in 1767 and visited by Bougainville in 1768, and by Cook in 1769. In 1777 Captain Cook speaks of the plantain as being cultivated there and also of wild plantains in the mountains. Ellis says the plantain and banana are indigenous and also cultivated in the native gardens. When Captain Cook discovered Wateroo Island, he found plantains and he mentions them at Atooi, the Annamooka Islands.
The banana is mentioned by Ramusio, 1563-74, as being found in Africa. At the island of St. Thomas, off the coast of Guinea, he says "they have also began to plant that herb, which in one year grows to the height of a tree. It produces fruit like the figs called muse in Alexandria, and it is called abellana in this island." In 1593, Sir Richard Hawkins says "the plantain is a tree found inmost parts of Afrique and America," and describes the fruit as having many varieties: "some great, some lesser, some round, some square, some triangle, most ordinarily of a spanne long " and "no conserve is better, nor of a more pleasing taste." St. John, in his Adventures in the Libyan Desert, mentions the banana as growing in some of the valleys and in the osais of Siwah. Grant found the plantain the staple food of the countries one degree on either side of the equator. There are half a dozen varieties, he says, the boiling, baking, drying, fruit and wine-making sorts. The fruit dried, from Ugigi, is like a Normandy pippin; a variety when green and boiled is an excellent vegetable, while another yields a wine resembling hock in flavor. Long says, in Uganda, this fruit grows wild in the greatest luxuriance. The tree is very large and the watery matter contained in the stock serves the natives of Uganda for water, when they cannot procure it elsewhere. The banana is scarcely ever eaten in the ripe state, save by the females, who extract from it an unfermented and delicious liquor. Burton says, in certain parts about Lake Tanganyika, the banana is the staff of life and is apparently an aboriginal of these latitudes. In the hilly countries, there are said to be about a dozen varieties, and a single bunch forms a load for a man. It is found on the islands and on the coast of Zanzibar and rarely in the mountains of Usagara. The best fruit is that grown by the Arabs at Unyamyembe, but this is a poor specimen, coarse and insipid, stringy and full of seeds. Upon the Tanganyika lake, there is a variety larger than the horse-plantain of India, of which the skin is brick-reddish, in places inclined to a rusty brown, the pulp a dull yellow and contains black seeds. The flavor is harsh, strong and drug-like.
In 1526, Thomas Nicols, writing of the "plantano" of the Canary Islands, says it "is like a cucumber and when it is ripe it is blacke and in eating more delicate than any conserve." Oviedo, 1516, says the banana was transplanted hence to the Island of Hispaniola, but the Dominique variety, which is supposed to be the one, does not answer to the description of Nicols. In the Cape Verde Islands, plantains are mentioned as seen by Cavendish at S. Jago in 1586 and also at Pogo Island.
The leaves of the banana, according to Prescott, have been frequently found in the huacas of Peru, and plantains and bananas were brought to Pizarro on his visit to Tumbez in 1527. Garcilasso de la Vega says that in the time of the Incas the banana, in the warm and temperate regions, formed the base of the nourishment of the natives. He describes the musa of the valley of the Andes; he distinguishes also the small, sweet and aromatic dominico and the common banana or arton. Oviedo contends that it is not indigenous to the New World but was introduced to Hispaniola in 1516 by Father Thomas de Berlanger and that he transplanted it from the Canary Islands, whither the original slips had been brought from the East Indies. Acosta says "it is the fruits they use most at the Indies and in general in all places, although they say the first beginning comes from Ethiopia." He also says "there is a kinde of small planes, white and very delicate, which in Hispaniola they call dominiques. There are others which are stronger and bigger and red of color. There growes none in the Kingdom of Peru but are brought from the Indies, as from Mexico, Guernavaca and other vallies. Upon the firme land and in some islands there are great store of planes like unto thick groves." There is a tradition current in Mexico, says Humboldt, that the platans arton and the dominico varieties were cultivated long before the arrival of the Spaniards. Piso, 1648, says the plant was imported into Brazil and has no Brazilian name, but Lery, 1578, says it is called paco. In Columbus' fourth voyage, at Costa Rica, in 1503, Las Casas says "the country produced bananas, plantains, pineapples, cocoanuts, and other fruit." According to Irving, bananas were likewise seen on Guatemala. In 1538, De Soto saw plantains in Cuba. In 1565, Bensoni, in his History of the New World says, "the plantain is a fruit much longer than it is broad, and the little ones are much better than the large ones." In 1593, Hawkins writes that the best he has seen in Brazil is on an island called Placentia and these are "small and round and green when they are ripe, whereas the others in ripening become yellow. Those of the West Indies and Guynne are great, and one of them sufficient to satisfie a man." In 1595, Captain Preston and Sommers had plantains brought them from Dominica Island, and the same year Captain Drake found great stores of them at Nombre de Dios. Herrera, who wrote a General History of the Indies from 1492 to 1554, says, at Quito, "the plantans have the relish of dry figs but eaten green their taste cannot be ascertained." About 1800, Humboldt ate the fruit of the dominico variety on the banks of the Amazon. At the present time, says Herndon, plantanos, which is the general name of all kinds of plantains of which last there are several species, are the most common fruit of the Montana. The people eat them raw, roasted, boiled, baked and fried. At Santa Barbara, California, they were growing in the mission gardens in 1793.
Musa simiarum Kurz.
From Malacca to the Sunda Islands. About 50 varieties of this species are under cultivation and are called feesangs. It surpasses M. sapientum in delicacy of flavor.