Musa sp. (Musaceae family)

Bananas and plantains originated in Southeast Asia and are likely to have been one of the first domesticated plants. There is evidence of cultivation for possibly over 10,000 years in what is now Papua New Guinea. They are both in the genus Musa and are the largest flowering herbaceous plant in the world. The stem of the plant is made of its tightly overlapping leaves. After fruiting, the plant dies and there are new offshoots emerging from the base.

Bananas and plantains bear fruit year-round. There are over 1000 varieties of bananas and the fruits vary in color, size, texture and taste. Upon developing the fruit, the plant forms an individual banana known as a “finger.”  Fingers grow in groups as many as twenty or more, known as “hands,” and large groups of hands form a “bunch”. Each plant produces a single stem and can grow to 10 feet in 4 months. In the right conditions they can bear fruit in as little as 6 months after planting.

Bananas offer many benefits beyond just providing energy. They contain a broad range of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients as well as beneficial prebiotics. The flesh is creamy with different levels of sugar and starch depending on the variety.

What is the difference between banana and plantain?

There is no precise distinction between bananas and plantains as they are both Musa species and cultivars. Typically, bananas produce a sweeter fruit that is mostly consumed uncooked. They make up most of the fruits consumed in the United States and Europe. The Cavendish cultivar is the main banana cultivar for export from banana-growing countries.

Plantains are starchier and lower in sugar. The plants and the fruits are typically larger and tougher than bananas and the fruits have thicker skin. They range in color from green to yellow to dark brown depending on the level of ripeness. They are usually harvested and cooked while still green. The fruit becomes less starchy as it ripens and is used for sweeter dishes when the skin is darker brown. Plantains can be boiled, steamed, fried, roasted, or dehydrated into a delicious and nutritious snack.

There are also dual-purpose varieties used for dessert and culinary.



Bananas on the Big Island
Natureworks Nursery Banana and Plantain
Banana flower

Banana blossom, Photo credit: Silvia Yordanova