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The Remarkable Story of the Banana

The Remarkable Story of the Banana

Charles Telfair

Belfast-born Charles Telfair, first arrived in the Indian Ocean as a naval surgeon aboard a ship sent to blockade the Isle of France during the Napoleonic Wars.After the conquest Telfair settled on Mauritius. He helped to found the Natural History Society and established a worldwide network of correspondents. He received and forwarded seeds and cuttings of plants and live or preserved specimens of fauna thereby contributing greatly to the advancement of scientific pursuits in these fields.

Banana Tree

Around 1826, Charles Telfair obtained plants of the dwarf banana, a species believed to originate in southern China. In 1829 he sent two plants to a friend in England, who successfully transplanted them in his gardens. In his letter sent at that time, Telfair wrote that he had collected all the known species of ‘musa’ – the banana – and considered the one sent to be the most valuable, as it fruited profusely, and, only growing three feet high, would be a great acquisition to the hothouses of England. Joseph Paxton, head-gardener of the Duke of Devonshire purchased one of the plants around 1831. The banana was planted on the Duke’s estate of Chatsworth in Derbyshire where it flowered. In 1836 Paxton wrote “we have a very healthy plant, which we intend to grow with every possible care, and there is no doubt but a great crop of fruit will be gathered. If our anticipations should prove correct, what a valuable addition this will be to our exotic fruits!” Soon afterwards, Paxton exhibited the new ‘Dwarf Banana’, raised at Chatsworth at the Horticultural Society’s show; it earned him the Knighton Silver Medal. After the fuss made over the banana at the Horticultural show, the dealer wrote an angry letter to Paxton, claiming that he should have sold the banana plant for £100, instead of £10! The plant was named Musa cavendishii in honour of the Duke – Cavendish being his family name. From Chatsworth, missionaries introduced the plant to Polynesia, and horticulturalists would eventually spread the Cavendish variety around the globe.


© Mauritius Mag


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