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What to do when children go bananas

November 9, 2012

Before I heard the songtao engines I heard the chattering of happy children. Twelve pupils and three teachers from Panyaden school just spent three hours here at Dokmai Garden in Chiang Mai. The theme: bananas!

First we looked at the ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ banana (‘gluay hom kiao’, Musa acuminata (AAA)) which is the most common supermarket banana in the west. We discussed why farmers like dwarfs (easy harvest and more wind resistant). We also concluded that although bananas like a mulch one should not use their own leaves due to the sigatoka fungal disease.

Then we briefly compared the banana pseudostem with that of a torch ginger, concluding they are non-woody cousins (members of the same order Zingiberales).

We continued to study the banana flowers of the ornamental ‘one hundred handed banana’ or ‘gluay roi wee’ (Musa acuminata x balbisiana (AAB)), and we admired the leaves of the Sumatran ‘zebra banana’ (Musa acuminata ssp. zebrina) which is a pure and fertile wild banana, representing the ancestors of the ‘Dwarf Cavendish’.

Pulling a cart full of tools to the banana orchard turned out to be a fun game. We looked at ‘gluay hak muk’ which is  a Thai cooking banana (Musa acuminata x balbisiana (ABB)), the sacred Hawaiian plantain Ae-ae (Musa acuminata x balbisiana (AAB)), ‘gluay nam wa’ (Musa acuminata x balbisiana (ABB)) which is the most popular banana in Thailand, and we harvested fruits of the ‘humble banana’ ‘gluay tani kao’ (Musa balbisiana). To the amazement of the kids the fertile fruits were full of inedible seeds.

Then the children transplanted suckers of ‘Gluay hom thong’ (‘Gros Michel’, Musa acuminata AAA) and saved another banana by planting it deeper. Digging, carrying, planting, fetching compost and water was a sweaty exercise. After a snack (banana bread) in the shade we cut down one ‘banana tree’ to study its non-woody interior. A banana pseudostem is just composed of leaves. It makes one cluster of bananas before it dies, so the farmer usually cuts it down straight away. We dragged the pseudostem to the wild boars Lala and Lolo to see if they actually would eat it. They did!

Demonstration of the ‘Dwarf Cavendish’ supermarket banana.

Fertile banana fruits have seeds just like any other plant. This is the humble banana Musa balbisiana (‘Gluay tani kao’).

Digging a hole for ‘Gluay hom thong’ (‘Gros Michel’).

Something for the toy store?

Text & Photo: Eric Danell (Precipitation report: on the 7th of November we received 16 mm of rain. That was more than the entire rainfall of October (12 mm). This year has been so strange, with dry season blossom (jacaranda and Radermachera ignea) during the rainy season and the red kapok tree (Bombax ceiba)is shooting new leaves now while it should become dormant. These new leaves will just shrivel up and the energy is lost in vain).

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