(Botanical basis of the blessing said before eating a banana; March 2008)
Mushrooms are not the only foods whose blessing is a surprise. (See Mushrooms–Selfish, Helpful, and Rocket Fuel.) Most people who live outside the tropics have not seen how bananas grow, and assume that they are tree fruits. The blessing to be said before eating them would then end with the words “Who creates the fruit of the tree”.
But bananas are considered “fruits of the ground,” so their blessing concludes with “Who creates the fruit of the earth”. Why is this so? Bananas grow in large bunches at the end of long, firm stalks that look like small trees. After the fruit is cut off. a close look at the cut end of the stalk reveals that it is not a woody tree trunk at all, but a tightly wrapped whorl of leaves and hollow leaf stalks that give the cut end the honeycombed appearance of tightly coiled corrugated cardboard. Several stalks, at various stages of development, can be seen growing out of a dense mat of shallow roots. As each stalk matures and its fruits are harvested, it is cut down or withers, while younger stalks rise up to replace it. Because bananas do not usually contain fertile seeds, new banana plants must be started by cutting off a piece of the root mat and transplanting it to the desired location. You can see a bunch of bananas emerging from the leaf whorl at: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:Banana.plant.kewgardens.arp.jpg
The purple object at the tip of the fruit stalk in this photo is the pollen-producing male flower. The fruits develop from the female flowers. Just as seedless grapes contain tiny, edible, sterile seeds, so do bananas. You can find the seeds in a banana by peeling it and then pushing a finger down into the edible part from the top. This will cause the fruit to split lengthwise into three sections. Along the “seam” where the three sections meet, you will find a row of extremely small black dots. These are the sterile vestiges of the seeds. Carrying out this little botanical demonstration may make you feel silly, but on Purim, that’s a good idea. Just make sure that the edible part of the banana is not wasted, and that the peel winds up in the trash, lest some Purim prankster with more mischief than sense get hold of it.