Fluorescent, Radioactive Berry? Little-Known Banana Facts

Cavendish_DS-bananabunchFun Banana Facts:

  • The banana is actually a berry, botanically speaking.
  • The Musa genus of plants (the family of plants that produce bananas) are native to Australia and Southeast Asia, and were first domesticated for human consumption in Papua New Guinea, perhaps as long as 8000 years ago.
  • The word banana is thought to be of West African origin, possibly from the Wolof word banaana, and passed into English via Spanish or Portuguese.
  • There are dozens of different kinds of bananas grown around the world, but in the US, nearly all of the bananas sold are of the Cavendish variety. The Cavendish banana is easier to transport, and has a longer shelf life, than other varieties.
  • Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive because of their potassium content and the small amounts of the isotope potassium-40 found in naturally occurring potassium. *
  • They’re fluorescent, too. A 2008 study reported that ripe bananas fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light (photo below), probably because the degradation of chlorophyll leads to the buildup of a fluorescent product in the skin of the fruit.**

Bananas -SteveHopson

Photo credits: Small bunch of bananas by Augustus Binu, CC BY-SA 4.0
Shelf full of bananas by Steve Hopson

See all our banana-related stories and recipes at this link.

*The “banana equivalent” dose of radiation is sometimes used in nuclear communication to compare radiation levels and exposures.

640px-Banana-fluorescence-081108**Banana-plant leaves also fluoresce in the same way as the ripe fruit – but green bananas do not fluoresce. The 2008 study suggested that the fluorescence allows animals that can see light in the ultraviolet spectrum to more easily detect ripened bananas.

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