National Geographic : 1916 Jan
THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE small, each farmer producing enough for the consumption of his own family, and a little surplus which he sends to the market. The Department of Agriculture has interested itself in the production of tea in this country, and has issued a bulle tin which reveals the fact that in South Carolina and elsewhere on the southern Atlantic seaboard America has proved a successful grower of this plant. THE BANANA INDUSTRY It is not so many years ago that the banana was a tropical crop, grown only for home consumption by residents of the river valleys of the tropical countries. It was sold mainly by street venders in the villages and towns, and only in ex ceptional cases did any reach American and European markets; but today we are importing more than 40,000,000 bunches of bananas into the United States every year, and the value of these importations ranges around $14,ooo,ooo. The first bananas ever imported came in 1869, and in many parts of the country it was twenty years later before they came to stay. It has been only in recent years that the banana reached Europe. Eng land now buys about 7,000,000 bunches a year (see page 89). A visit to a banana plantation is an in teresting experience. The banana tree wants a rich soil; but, given that, no other tree known can grow faster. In prepar ing a banana plantation, the jungle is first cut down, and sprouts are planted in rows about six feet apart. By the time the tree is ready to bear, every bit of the jungle debris has disappeared, except that here and there an occasional hardwood tree still lies prone upon the ground. One can scarcely believe his eyes when he sees how quickly the processes of decay so nearly obliterate the last vestige of the felled tropical jungle. Each tree grows one bunch of bananas. When they have reached maturity, but are still green, the tree is cut about half way up its trunk, and the upper part falls gently into the hands of the banana gath erers. The bunches of green bananas are put on hand-cars and hauled to central places, where the banana trains come along and pick them up. SINGING AS TIEY WORK I have seen 35,000 bunches of bananas loaded into the hold of a ship in a single night, the West Indian negroes singing after the fashion of the hand-drill gangs on railroad and other construction work in the United States. The people who handle bananas on the big plantations of Central America and the West Indies so lose their taste for this fruit that they seldom keep them on their tables at all. Once I was on one of the biggest plan tations in the world, in Guatemala, and, although there must have been several hundred thousand bunches on the trees that were in sight, there was not one ripe banana around the entire settlement of the plantation headquarters. The banana and its cousin, the plan tain, are found in most tropical countries. To the native of Central Africa they yield not only a part of his food and some of his drink, but he gets from them his string, his soap, and his clothing. He cooks the green fruit of the plan tain as a vegetable, and serves the ripe fruit as a dessert. With the banana he makes his flour and sometimes his coffee. He uses the leaves, to thatch his house, and also makes them serve him for paper, table-cloths, and napkins. He often uses the stems for fences, the pith as a sponge, and the fiber as a string. THE PINEAPPLE Another native of America tlat has won favor in every part of the world where it is known is the pineapple. Jack Frost is its deadly enemy; therefore it grows only in tropical and subtropical communities; but the refrigerator ship has enabled it to wander to every point of the compass where men and women who love good things to eat are to be found. Hawaii leads the world in the produc tion of pineapples. It has brought to its fields every variety of this luscious fruit that might add, by cross-breeding, to the size and flavor of its product, so that to day canned Hawaiian pineapple and raw Hawaiian sugar serve largely to keep the American flag on the high seas in Pacific waters (see page 88).