The Plantain Tree
The plantain, or banana, is not really a tree, though it sometimes grows to a height of eighteen feet. It is a very large plant that has long creeping roots under the ground. From these roots rise thick, fleshy stems, which are really bundles of leaves wrapped closely round each other. The true leaves come out at the top and are very large, sometimes ten feet long. They are like palm leaves and bright green in colour. A field of banana plants with long green leaves waving in the breeze is a fine sight. The flowers come out on a long, purple, spike, and are followed by the fruit, which we know so well. Plantains need a lot of water and a very wet soil; and they grow best in hot, moist climates, like those of Bengal, Chennai, and Mumbai.
The banana came first from the East Indies, but it is grown now in all hot countries and is specially fine in the West Indies. There are several kinds. One of the finest is the long yellow Jamaica plantain; the small yellow kind from the Canary Islands is very sweet, the Bombay plantain is red and large, and has a strange smoky taste.
Bananas are very wholesome fruits and a portion of very good food. Indeed, they are such a portion of good food, that in some places people eat little else. They are generally eaten raw when they are ripe, but they are very nice when roasted. They are also dried and crushed to powder, and the flour thus made is used for making bread and cakes.
Large quantities of bananas are sent in ships to England from the West Indies and other places. They are picked when green, and they ripen on the voyage.