This section is from "The Horticulturist, And Journal Of Rural Art And Rural Taste", by P. Barry, A. J. Downing, J. Jay Smith, Peter B. Mead, F. W. Woodward, Henry T. Williams. Also available from Amazon: Horticulturist and Journal of Rural Art and Rural Taste.
Indifferent observers will scarcely detect a difference between the banana and plantain, except in the fruit, and here the likeness is great; bnt the plantain bears a longer fruit, somewhat differently shaped. This splendid and valuable genus, Mu$at consists of species which have perennial, roundish, solid, watery bulbs, with biennial, and sometimes longer enduring stems. The stems are straight, erect, varying from five to twenty-five feet in height, simple, thick, round, smooth, fungous, watery, and lamellated. The leaves are oblong, and, till split with the winds, entire, from three to tea feet in length, and under two feet in width. The flowere are in large terminating racemes, without a calyx or perianthium, generally whitish, the fertile flowers occupying the lower, and the barren the upper part of the raceme. They are cultivated in great perfection by Mr. Dundas in his noble palm-house in Philadelphia, and.succeed tolerably well in sheltered situations in New Orleans.
In the plant most cultivated in the West Indies and Cuba, the herbaceous stalk is fifteen or twenty feet high, with leaves often more than six feet long, and two broad. When the fruit is cut, the stalk is also destroyed, and new sprouts soon appear, one or two only being allowed to grow, and thus a continuous supply is afforded. The skin of the fruit is tough, and within is a soft pulp, of a luscious, sweet flavor that it is very easy to become fond of. The spikes of fruit are often so large as to weigh upwards of forty pounds. Gerarde, and other old authors, name it Adam's Apple, from a notion that it was the forbidden fruit of Eden; whilst others supposed it to be the grapes brought out of the promised land by the spies of Moses. It is certainly one of the most useful fruits in the world, and seems to have migrated with mankind into all the climates in which it can be cultivated; some or other of the plants are bearing most parts of the year, and their fruit is often the whole food of a family. The plantain is roasted, boiled, and fried, when just full grown; it is also eaten boiled with salt meat or fish, and, when ripe, it is made into tarts, or dried as a sweetmeat.
A fermented liquor is made from them, and, in some places, a cloth from the fibres of the trunk; the leaves make excellent mats, or serve for stuffing mattresses. Its value may be judged of by the fact that three dozen plantains are sufficient to serve one man for a week instead of bread, and will support him much longer.
Mr. Sauvalle, the botanist of the island, assured us that in the banana would be found the long sought substitute for rags in paper making, and we have but little doubt respecting this. The amount of fibre contained in the stalk is very great - certainly not lessthan forty per cent. - and this is easily reduced to pulp. So confident is Mr. S. respecting this (and his opinion will have great weight With all who know him), that be would be willing to enter into arrangements with a practical paper-maker to establish the manufacture, for which the greatest abundance of material, now wasted or thrown away, could be had. From Mr. Sauvalle's position and wealth, this is a feasible project. He does not doubt that the premium offered, in London, of a thousand pounds sterling, for a substitute for the mate-rials at present se scarce, could be obtained after a fair experiment.