Banana, fruit of the genus Musa, of the family Musaceae, one of the most important fruit crops of the world. The banana is grown in the tropics, and, though it is most widely consumed in those regions, it is valued worldwide for its flavour, nutritional value, and availability throughout the year. Cavendish, or dessert, bananas are most commonly eaten fresh, though they may be fried or mashed and chilled in pies or puddings. They may also be used to flavour muffins, cakes, or breads. Cooking varieties, or plantains, are starchy rather than sweet and are grown extensively as a staple food source in tropical regions; they are cooked when ripe or immature. A ripe fruit contains as much as 22 percent of carbohydrate and is high in dietary fibre, potassium, manganese, and vitamins B6 and C.
The banana plant is a gigantic herb that springs from an underground stem, or rhizome, to form a false trunk 3–6 metres (10–20 feet) high. This trunk is composed of the basal portions of leaf sheaths and is crowned with a rosette of 10 to 20 oblong to elliptic leaves that sometimes attain a length of 3–3.5 metres (10–11.5 feet) and a breadth of 65 cm (26 inches). A large flower spike, carrying numerous yellowish flowers protected by large purple-red bracts, emerges at the top of the false trunk and bends downward to become bunches of 50 to 150 individual fruits, or fingers. The individual fruits, or bananas, are grouped in clusters, or hands, of 10 to 20. After a plant has fruited, it is cut down to the ground, because each trunk produces only one bunch of fruit. The dead trunk is replaced by others in the form of suckers, or shoots, which arise from the rhizome at roughly six-month intervals. The life of a single rhizome thus continues for many years, and the weaker suckers that it sends up through the soil are periodically pruned, while the stronger ones are allowed to grow into fruit-producing plants.