Is this the end of bananas? If you buy a banana, the chances are that it will almost certainly be descended from an original plant that was first grown in one of England’s finest stately homes. Chatsworth House, situated in the beautiful Peak District, seems an unlikely birthplace for today’s banana industry.
Almost every banana consumed in the western world is descended from a plant grown in Chatsworth’s hothouse some 180 years ago. Now, news is emerging that the banana could soon cease to exist.
In 1830, the head gardener at Chatsworth, Joseph Paxton took a banana that had been imported from Mauritius. The story goes that he had been inspired after seeing a banana plant depicted on Chinese wallpaper that was used to decorate one of the 175 rooms in the huge mansion. However, today’s head gardener Steve Porter is sceptical about the story.
Joseph Paxton filled a pit with water, rich loam soil and well rotted manure and with the temperature maintained between 18C and 30C to grow the fruit he called Musa Cavendishii after his employers, Cavendish, being the family name of the Dukes and Duchesses of Devonshire. It was an exciting time for a family in England to feed their guests with bananas they had grown themselves.
In November 1835, Joesph Paxtons’ banana plant finally flowered and by the following May it was packed with more than 100 bananas, one of which won a medal at that year’s Horticultural Society Show. After a few years, the duke supplied two cases of plants to missionary, John Williams to take to Samoa. Only one case survived, but it launched the banana industry in Samoa and other South Sea islands. Missionaries also took the Cavendish banana to the Pacific and Canary Islands.
However, it is only in recent years that it has become the exporter’s banana of choice, it’s rise in popularity caused by the very thing that is now killing it off, the Panama disease! For years, the most popular banana was the Gros Michel, but in the 1950’s it was wiped out by a fungus, banana wilt or Panama disease. It was then that growers turned to the Cavendish banana that seemed to be immune to the fungus, was able to survive global travel and most importantly, able to grow in infected soils.
Nearly all bananas exported to Europe, the UK and North America, are Cavendishes, all derived from the first Chatsworth plant. A quarter of bananas eaten in India are Cavendishes as are nearly most of all bananas consumed by the Chinese. But just as growers were busy cultivating their Cavendishes, so too was the Panama disease developing a new strain that was capable of killing them off! And the new fungus is even more deadly than that which wiped out the Gros Michel, for it also affects numerous local breeds of banana around the world.
‘I try to avoid dramatising this story but look at what happened previously with the Gros Michel,’ said Dr Gert Kema, an expert in global plant production from the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands. ‘If that happens again we have a very serious issue, and it is happening now.’
Well, I love my banana, I have one every day along with a small orange. I’m not sure what type of banana I eat, but reading the reports coming through, it could well be a Cavendish. I do hope they don’t die out, that would be dreadful.
The full story about this item can be found here on the BBC.