Maia Hapai


A rare maia hapai — Hawaiian pregnant banana — underwent a pseudo-cesarean section Saturday revealing the compacted and glistening fruit in the banana’s trunk.

As Amy B. H. Greenwell Ethnobotanical Garden Manager Peter Van Dyke sliced open the swollen banana tree’s trunk, a foul smelling liquid poured out and slender, tightly held-together bananas and a coiled stem emerged. It’s a rare event for a rare plant that bears its fruit within its stem just once, maybe twice a year, at the Captain Cook gardens, which have three to four patches of the maia hapai variety.

The maia hapai is a variety found in Hawaii and areas of Polynesia, said Van Dyke. It falls within the musa genus, which includes most species that produce edible bananas as well as dwarf and ornamental species, he said.

Normally, the pregnant banana variety bears fruit through the top of its stem, however, the variety periodically bears the fruit within its stem. Because the tree grows from a main underground stem, or rhizome, it doesn’t require sexual reproduction giving way for the bananas to form within the plant, he said.

For every time the banana bears its fruit within its stem, the maia hapai bears fruit 20 to 30 times normally, Van Dyke said. It takes about eight to nine months to reach maturity and the fruit is edible, but doesn’t have the same flavor as a fully developed, ripe banana.

Not much is known about why the plant occasionally bears fruit within its stem, Van Dyke said. However, research has suggested that it is a genetic virus or mutation passed through the plant that seems to choke off its ability to push the fruit through the stem.

“Other bananas can and do, but this type will do it every now and then,” he said. “It is more regular with the maia hapai.”

For more information on the garden, visit bishopmuseum.org or call 323-3318.