There are so many species of banana that they keep the heads of botanists swimming.
Everyone knows the yellow, purple and brown edible bananas found in the markets. And then there are the larger plantains (platanos in Costa Rica) that have to be cooked. They show up in nearly every Costa Rican lunch casado. They also are great fried and then sprinkled with cheese. The cooking brings out the sugars.
Botanists think (but do not know for sure) that the plant on the left came to Latin America in the 19th century from India. If that is true, it is a late comer. Evidence exists that bananas came to the tropical New World very early, probably in boats by Asian immigrants. Archeological sites in South America go back to at least 14,000 B.C., and the ancient travelers probably brought the roots or corms of bananas with them. The plant, really an evergreen herb, is easily cultivated.
Some bananas also can be cultivated from seed, so the exact history on how the plant got to the Americas is lost to history.
One fact is that the plants are not easily defeated. Once introduced to a garden, they keep coming back even if they are whacked down to the ground. They also tend to take over with their leaves up to six feet and heights up to 10 feet.
The ornamental variety to the left, Musa ornata, is believed to have arrived in Latin America from India. The plant makes good backdrop to a tropical planting, and its weird flowers are upright, not dropping like commercial bananas.
Humming birds love the tiny yellow flowers. The red bananas are hard like a rock, but they can be cooked and used in salads, some say.
The plant to the left is a volunteer. It just popped up one day in an urban garden.