How do bananas reproduce? What you need to know

From pudding to splits, there’s nothing quite like a banana. The trees are beautiful, too, and the leaves have their own uses, as well. If you’ve ever eaten a banana, though, you may have noticed that they don’t have seeds like an apple or orange.

So how do banana trees reproduce? Do they have seeds at all, or are they grown through some other method? Can you grow them at home, or do you have to be content with getting bunches of bananas from a grocery store? We’re going to break down everything you need to know about banana reproduction and answer all your questions!

A banana with banana slices stacked next to it

Do bananas have seeds?

Well, yes and no. If you’ve ever eaten a banana and noticed the little black dots in the center, those are actually the seeds. If you’re thinking that those dots are too small to be functional seeds, you’d be correct. They’re immature seeds, but, unlike other fruit seeds, these seeds won’t develop into full, functional seeds. This means that you can’t just plant a banana and grow a banana tree.

Of course, most fruit trees don’t naturally produce fruit with seeds that won’t mature. Wild banana trees still exist, and they have plenty of seeds. So many seeds, in fact, that they’re nearly completely inedible. Wild bananas are also much smaller than the fruit we enjoy today. Over the course of centuries, bananas were domesticated and bred to have bigger fruit with smaller seeds until we eventually reached the varieties grown today.

How are commercial bananas grown?

So, if bananas don’t have mature seeds, how are they grown? Banana trees mainly reproduce through suckers, also called pups. These pups appear to be separate, smaller trees growing next to the adult tree, but they are actually an offshoot from the roots of that tree. This means they are actually the same plant attached at the roots. Banana trees produce pups as part of reproduction but also to increase the general surface area of the plant so they can absorb more light and water.

Once these pups are three to four feet tall, they can be separated from the adult plant. After separation, the pups can be planted on their own. They’ll continue to grow into mature plants, producing fruit and, eventually, pups of their own.

This method has benefits and drawbacks. It is generally faster and more reliable than growing from seed, and takes less overall work than grafting. However, since each pup is a clone of the mature plant it came from, it decreases the overall genetic diversity of the larger banana population. This leaves bananas vulnerable to diseases, since it takes much longer for the species to develop disease resistances.

Banana tree with small pup or sucker next to it
Gheorghe Mindru/Shutterstock

Can you grow bananas at home?

You can get banana pups at some nurseries or specialty stores, although, depending on your location, you may have better luck online. There are even some dwarf varieties that can be grown in containers for an extended length of time and more cold tolerant varieties in case you don’t live in a tropical location.

Banana plants need full sun and do best when planted in rich, well-draining soil. Most varieties prefer slightly acidic soil and are susceptible to wind damage, so take that into consideration when choosing a planting location. Bananas also need lots of water and thrive in humid conditions.

Eventually, your banana plant will put out pups, which you can either leave attached or separate them when the pup grows to at least three feet tall. Some banana trees will produce pups when distressed to help the plant take in more water and light, so check that your plant is getting everything it needs when you first begin seeing pups.

Next time you eat a banana, take a second to look for the tiny immature seeds and marvel at the wonder of plant domestication. If you’re interested in growing bananas for yourself, this is a good place to start. Remember that banana trees grow in tropical locations, so they need plenty of sun and water. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the pups, and, if you’re lucky, you could grow a whole grove. If nothing else, you’re a little more knowledgeable about one of the most fascinating plants that appears in every grocery store.

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