Behold! Bawdy and Bold, the Banana!

My slice of heaven opens to a view of banana trees. At no time in the Minnesota years did I ever see a banana tree, not in the wild, and not in captivity. Even the Como Park Conservatory, that fantasy of tropical jungle under glass where I’d go in the dead of winter to be reassured that green still existed somewhere on the planet, didn’t sport a banana tree. I knew oaks, maples, an assortment of evergreens, and could tell the difference between birches and poplars. But when sliced banana appeared on my morning cereal, I didn’t think to wonder what sort of growth it sprouted from.

In Bali, there’s a new world of tropical flora to learn.  Unlike shy Minnesota flowers, Bali blooms are showy and bold, but when I noticed an extra large, bulbous, purple appendage dangling under a broad-leafed canopy, I stared in bewildered wonder.

P1090871“What’s that?” I point at the mutant growth that seems to have materialized in my garden overnight.

“Banana flower,” Ketut says.

“It doesn’t look like a banana, why would anyone name it that?”

“No,” he’s patient as always. “That flower make banana.”

I zoom in with my camera and, sure enough. Atop the eggplant color is a green fingerling hair-do, parted in the middle.

P1090874And above that are delicate flowers that look like rows of orchids.

P1090872It’s like watching grass grow on fast forward. Each day the flower looks more and more banana-like.

P1020806Until finally,

P1020802the bunch is ready for harvest.

Fascinated by watching the exotic transformation from flower to fruit, I do a little research and learn some interesting banana facts:

The banana is a berry.

There are over 370 varieties of banana. Some estimate closer to 1000.

A banana stem, such as shown in the last picture above, can weigh up to 110 pounds and have 3 to 20 tiers with up to 20 bananas on each tier.

The banana tree matures, bears once, then dies, but before that happens, a new shoot has already sprung up from the base. In this sense, the banana is a perennial.

Bananas are naturally, slightly radioactive due to their potassium content.

In Bali, the entire tree is utilized. Small squares cut from the leaves form the base for daily house offerings. Food is wrapped in banana leaves for steaming. A piece of the waxy green leaf often doubles as a dinner plate. The trunk is soft and is fed to livestock or used as the center of the offering towers to secure the pyramid of fruits.

I’ve always loved the flavor, texture, and sweetness of bananas. But since moving to their native habitat, I’ve come to respect the prominent role they play in every nuance of Balinese life. P1090642And when Ketut brings me a plate of banana fritters with shaved palm sugar, and says, “Enjoy!” believe me, I do, every melt-in-your-mouth tantalizing morsel!

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