Many scholars think it was what got Adam and Eve kicked out of the Garden of Eden. It’s wreaked havoc in nature and among laborers on plantations in Central America and beyond. Today, Americans eat more of them than the number of apples and oranges combined: Yes, the humble banana is all this and more – the inspiration behind the term “banana republic,” the world’s most popular fruit, a go-to for potassium-seeking athletes and now a species endangered by a fast-moving fungus that might annihilate it.
Author Dan Koeppel takes readers on a rapid romp through the expansive history and shaky future of this seedless, sexless fruit in his 2008 book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World. In addition to tales about Eden, the yellow fruit’s migration and growing popularity through the years, Koeppel warns that the banana’s unique reproductive system — each fruit is a genetic duplicate of the next — makes it especially susceptible to epidemics.
“What’s happening [now] with bananas is that they are being struck by a fungus called Panama disease that is incurable and that pretty much wipes out banana plantations within a matter of years,” Koeppel says. That fungus, he adds, has made its way from Asia to Australia and is predicted to afflict banana fields in Latin America and South America within the next decade.
“Every single banana scientist I spoke to — and that was quite a few — says it’s not an ‘if,’ it’s a ‘when,’” Koeppel told NPR. “It only takes a single clump of contaminated dirt, literally, to get this thing rampaging across entire continents.”
Would the disappearance of the banana affect you? How important is it that scientists zap the fungus before it’s too late?