Australian bananas are a product of the rain and sunshine of the tropics and sub tropics.
Bananas grow in row after row on commercial plantations in three states. They are actually the worlds largest herb, a plant, that goes on producing year after year.
More than 90 percent of Australia’s bananas are grown in Queensland, the majority in the high rainfall region in the far-north, where bananas grow in a narrow coastal strip between Cardwell in the south and Babinda in north. The industry is now centred around Innisfail and Tully in North Queensland.
Others are grown on the Atherton Tableland, northern New South Wales from around Coffs Harbour to the Tweed River and in southeast Queensland as far north as Bundaberg. Small commercial plantations exist in Western Australia around Carnarvon, as well as the near the Ord River at Kununurra and near Darwin.
A well planned plantation incorporates good soil types, safe all weather access, row design to suit typographic conditions, irrigation design, plant spacings, and specialised erosion control and drainage structures.
From the time of planting it usually takes 12 months or so to produce the first bunch, with subsequent bunches every 8-10 months thereafter. Because commercial banana plants cannot produce seeds, they are predominately propagated from their underground rhizomes called corms or tissue culture.
The corm is a mass of underground fibrous material, which develops underground eyes, which sprout as new shoots called suckers (followers), whilst the parent or mother plant continues to grow. Generally it is the corm of the plant which is dug up and cut up for planting material (called bits) and suckers.
Almost half of banana plants are propagated by tissue culture because they are free of major pest and diseases. Tissue culture is a process whereby plants are produced in sterile conditions and grown in pots. The tissue is taken from the meristem located near the centre of an eye. The young plantlets are about 300mm high.
As the young banana plant grows it continually produces suckers (followers). Only one of these is selected to continue the banana crop cycle whilst all the others are removed.
The banana plant is the largest perennial plant on earth without a wooden stem. Its trunk (called pseudostem) comprises a series of tightly overlapping leaf sheaths and is comprised of about 90% water. As such a banana plant can easily be blown over by moderately strong winds.
After approximately six months, when the banana plants leaf formation is completed and the plant has matured, a flowering stalk emerges from the top of the plant. This flowering stalk appears as a large bud and is called the bell. Initially the flowering stalk grows upwards and is eventually turned downward by the forces of gravity.
This bell forms in the corm and pushes its way up through the pseudostem, to emerge through what is known as the throat of the plant. It follows the last leaf (called a spade leaf) that the parent plant will produce.
At this stage the inflorescent (bell) is greenish red, bullet shaped and pointing vertically. It quickly turns over to a pendulous position.
The infloresenct consists of male and female flowers attached to a central stem and arranged in grouped double rows, called hands. A reddish purple, fleshy bract protects each hand. As the bunch develops, the bracts begin to lift and fall off, revealing the developing bananas. The female flowers are the first hands to be revealed and are recognisably bigger than the male flowers. Only the female flowers will develop into bananas, and the hands of the male flowers fall off soon after their bracts do.
As the little bananas start to develop, they grow downward, as gravity would dictate, but, as they take in more and more sunlight, their natural growth hormones bring about a phenomenon known as "negative geotropism" and they begin to turn and grow upward, which is why bananas are always bent.
After the bunch forms, it is covered with a large, translucent bag shielding it from insect, bird, flying fox and leaf damage. It is hard to believe a leaf rubbing in the wind on a newly emerged bunch can mark the developing bananas. The bag still allows sunlight to reach the bananas.
In addition, when a bunch has a translucent bag on it, it helps the fruit to fill out more quickly. A bunch with a bag on it will be picked two to three weeks quicker than one without.
At the time of covering the bunch is trimmed via the removal of some of the smaller hands and the bell is also removed.
Within 12 to 15 weeks of flowering, bunches have matured enough to be ready for harvest. A bunch averages 150 to 200 bananas and weighs approximately 35-50 kilograms. Once the bunch is harvested, the parent or mother plant is cut down and becomes organic plantation matter.
The selected sucker (follower) will now become the new parent or mother plant which will produce the next bunch of bananas in approximately 8-12 months time.