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banana plant

A non-woody fruitbearing plant, with a soft herbaceous stem, that is made up of leaves that wrap round each other, forming what appears to be a trunk, which often leads to this plant mistakenly being referred to as a tree. The outer layers can be pealed from the stem which is frequently used as pig food by local farmers (fig.), as well as for making krathong (fig.). The plant grows up to several meters high and in Thailand there are many different kinds, either edible or inedible, and growing both in the wild and on farms. Chatuchak Park (fig.) in Bangkok has an educative Banana Garden (fig.), which displays a large variety of different species of banana plant. The largest collection of banana plants, however, is not found in the tropics or subtropics, but at the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement, an academic research centre in support of the enhancement of tropical crops, with special emphasis on bananas and plantains (fig.) attached to the Faculty of Bioscience Engineering of the Catholic University of Leuven, in Belgium. The banana plant has typical large, flat leaves. The stalk grows upward through the apparent trunk and emerges from the top in the form of an arched overhanging inflorescence, on which the fruits grow. The fruits grow in bunches, each having several combs (fig.) and each comb has around a dozen bananas. They grow towards the light, making them curve and resulting in their typical shape. A slice of the banana plant's inflorescence or flower-bud (fig.), called hua plih in Thai (fig.), is often served with phad thai. From the stem or kahn (ก้าน) of the banana plant an imaginative horse is made in the traditional children's game mah kahn kluay (fig.). In religious mythology, the arahat Vanavasin was born and is believed to have gained Enlightenment under a banana plant, and hence is in art usually depicted seated on a banana leaf (fig.), which in Thai is called bai tong. In Myanmar, people who die unmarried are buried with a banana trunk in their coffin, so they would not remain alone in the afterlife. In Thai known as ton gluay. See also PANORAMA PICTURE.