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Banana - mai`a

English name:

Family name:
Scientific name:
Musa acuminata/Musa sapientum
Introduced by:
Polynesian introduction and Native varieties
See Also...



Mai`a usually grows in moist areas that are wind protected or planted around dwellings or on well-watered banks of taro lo`i. It can grow on median forest belts from an altitude of 1500 to 3000 ft. and on lower fringes of the forests.


Leaves: Mai`a is a giant herb, about 10 - 15 feet tall, with parallel venation on leaves that are about 6 feet long.
It has an underground stem known as rhizome and its above ground stem is really a pseudostem consisting of tightly appressed leaf sheaths.
Banana flower

Flowers: Its flowers are borne on thick, erect or drooping stem issuing from the top of the trunk or center of the leaf cluster. The male flowers are at the tip and the female at the base of the inflorescence, with a large red spathe.
Fruit: The flowers develop into simple fleshy fruits with little or no seeds at all. Generally the banana is seedless(parthenocarpic fruit).

There were over 70 varieties of native mai`a, such as the manini, mahoe, hapai, kahiki, eleele, etc. During Liholiho's time, some kinds of banana were kapu to women, death being the penalty for disobedience. There are lots of Hawaiian myth associated with banana. The Hawaiian literature is rich in the use of similes referring to bananas: "his skin was like a ripe banana" or "his beauty returned like the beauty of a young banana leaf".


Banana has many worldwide uses: leaves for house roofs, umbrellas, plates, cattle feed, cigarette papers, clothing and packing materials; leaf buds for vegetables; leaf sheaths for water runways and in Hawaii as containers for leis or plants to be transported. The leaf sheaths were used for thatching, for stringing leis, dor tying, for plaiting into clothing and for cloth and thread. In the Philippines, the flowers are cooked and eaten as vegetables. The flowers, fruit and roots are used medicinally in some parts of the world. In India the ashes are used for dyeing, tanning, in curries and substitute for salt. From the fruit: alcohol, vinegar and wine can be produced.

According to a Hawaiian legend: Pele, the goddess of volcanoes, brought the banana to Hawaii, where it was believed that it's bad luck to dream of bananas or to meet a person carrying them and to carry bananas as part of a lunch on a fishing trip. A banana stalk was used in lieu of a human sacrifice.


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Last Modified: 14-Dec-2010 13:23 HST