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Banana Peal

Claim:   Bananas will be extinct within ten years.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2003]

Local radio station reported that bananas as we know them will not be in existence in 5 to 15 years. The bananas has been genetically altered so much that new plants can not be grown as there are no seeds and the existing plants are slowly being destroyed by a parasite.

Origins:   Once again, the ecological doomsday bell has been set to tolling, this time by folks fearful of the imminent demise of our favorite fruit, the banana. In January 2003, a report in New Scientist Banana suggested bananas could well disappear within ten years thanks to two blights: black Sigatoka, a leaf fungus, and Panama disease, a soil fungus which attacks the roots of the plant. Those claims have since been disputed.

Bananas aren't about to be swept from the face of the earth by a deadly pestilence poised to wipe them out (and more than ten years has elapsed since that original report, yet bananas are still with us). There are about 300 varieties of the fruit, and the reported fear applied to only one of them, the Cavendish. Granted, the Cavendish is our banana of choice, but it isn't the only banana out there. Even if the Cavendish were lost to us, we would still not be singing "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

The Cavendish, the banana American consumers are most familiar with, has been threatened in some Asian countries by a strain of fusarium wilt known as Panama Disease or Race 4. This soil-borne fungus attacks roots and cannot be controlled by fungicides. If Race 4 were to reach Cavendish plants in large-scale commercial plantations, it could have a devastating impact on the

Bananas stand in greater peril to disease and insect damage than the majority of other fruits because they are sterile, seedless mutants. New plants are created from cuttings of existing ones, making them little more than clones of one another. Without the natural diversity resulting from sexual reproduction, bananas continue on generation after generation with the same genetic makeup. Their inability to mutate and adapt leaves them vulnerable to species-wide disaster, because what fells one of them will prove the undoing of every plant within that particular variety. In the 1960s the Gros Michel, then a hugely popular variety of the fruit, was wiped out by another strain of Panama Disease. The loss of the Gros Michel promoted the Cavendish into the #1 spot.

Lack of genetic diversity does place the banana in a precarious position, and the danger posed by Race 4 to the Cavendish is real. (Sigatoka, while serious, provides less of a threat in that it can be successfully combated.) Yet according to scientists and banana experts who attended the three-day seminar on conventional and alternative handling of common banana diseases held 7-10 August 2003 in Guayaquil, Ecuador, bananas are still far from global extinction. Disease control alternatives such as the development of "plants resistant to the main diseases," the employment of "friendly-bacteria, fungi and other micro-organisms," and the increasing use of organic practices have contributed greatly to the successful control of feared banana plagues, they say. This echoes what was said in February 2003 by a plant pathologist with the American Phytopathological Society (APS) in response to the controversial New Scientist article that brought the plight of the Cavendish to the public's attention:
"Diseases are, and will remain, major constraints to both export and subsistence production of banana, and there is no doubt that Black Sigatoka and Panama Disease constitute the most important threats," said Randy C. Ploetz, Professor at the University of Florida's Tropical Research and Education Center. "However, it is unlikely that these problems will cause production to decrease greatly in the next decade, let alone that the crop will become extinct."
For Race 4 to spread into the large plantations, either infected banana suckers or infested soil would have to be introduced into the growing fields. Practices allowing this type of spread are strictly forbidden in the export-producing countries, and new plantations are started from pathogen-free, tissue cultured plants. Therefore, despite the seriousness of the threat posed by Race 4, it looks like bananas as a whole and even the species we're now best accustomed to are going to be with us for a long time. Which is a state of affairs worth going bananas over.

Bananas are a nutritional gold mine. At only 110 calories per 4-ounce offering, they contain a mere trace of fat. They are high in vitamin B6, which helps fight infection and is essential for the synthesis of heme, the iron-containing part of hemoglobin. They are also rich in potassium (more than 400 mg per banana) and are a great source of fiber. In recent years, a number of claims about their healthful benefits have surfaced, including that they combat warts, depression, and morning sickness. Although the jury is still out on those benefits, this humble yellow-skinned fruit could lower the risk of heart attack and stroke as part of a heart-healthy diet and could potentially even lower the risk of cancer. Or at least so says the FDA.

Bananas, by the way, grow on plants, not trees. One last bit of banana trivia: a bunch of bananas is properly styled a hand, and a single fruit a finger.

Barbara "so give someone you love a hand" Mikkelson

Additional information:
    Nutritional Properties of the Banana   Nutritional Properties of the Banana
Last updated:   18 July 2014

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    Hopkins, Kamahria.   "Bananas, A Kitchen Staple, Are Nutrition Powerhouses, Too."
    Omaha World Herald.   7 August 2003   (p. E1).

    Pearce, Fred.   "Bye-Bye, Banana."
    The Boston Globe.   18 February 2003   (p. C1).

    BusinessWorld.   "Cavendish Bananas Far from Extinction — Experts."
    11 September 2003.

    New Scientist.   "Going Bananas."
    18 January 2003   (p. 26).

    PR Newswire.   "Plant Pathologists Unpeel Rumors of Banana Extinction."
    14 February 2003.