Growing Bananas on La Palma

 

A banana treeshowing the bunch of growing bananas
A banana tree, showing the bunch of growing bananas, Los Sauces

When I first came to La Palma in 1990, around 40% of the population depended on the banana trade: growing bananas, packing them, or driving them. But even with the EU subsidy, it’s hard to make a living from bananas. If you’re unlucky with the weather, you can work hard all year and still make a loss. So the economy is diversifying, and a good thing too. But bananas are still very important.

Bananas need a lot of water. Since La Palma is the wettest of the Canary Islands, it has the most irrigation water available, and the most banana plantations, particularly around Los Llanos.

Banana trees aren’t trees. That is, they don’t have a rigid trunk with annual rings. The “trunk” consists of concentric leaves, like a leek. They don’t live all that long either. The plant grow one flower stalk and several side shoots. The farmer cuts off all but one of the side shoots, so that the one that’s left grows better.

Another surprise: what I’d always called a bunch – you know, somewhere from 3 to 15 bananas – is technically a “hand”. A bunch is a stalk full of hands. The variety of bananas grown here is a “giant dwarf” (yes, really!) so a bunch is maybe three feet long. And as you can see, the bananas grow upside down, curling up and away from the stalk. Once the bunch has been harvested, the main shoot dies, and one of the side shoots becomes the main one again.

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