Mai`a or Banana
Mai`a, Musa paradisiaca, the banana is an important staple of Polynesian island life. They must have arrived in these islands with the earliest canoe voyagers.
The banana is not tree, but is actually a very large member of the grass family. There are about 50 varieties of Musa paradisiaca. Descendants of the early plants now grow wild in protected valleys, stream gullies and mountain slopes.
The mai'a can grow to 25 feet tall. But, the Palace plants are usually about 8 feet tall. Each plant produces about 5 or 6 big hands or bunches of bananas. The mai'a takes approximately one year to mature and ripen. Hawaiians say the banana teaches patience. `A `ohe hua o ka mai`a i ka la ho`okahi - Bananas do not fruit in a single day.
Today, the banana fruit is eaten raw or as a cooked vegetable. In ancient time every part of the plant was used. The leaves were used as roofing material, umbrellas, and as containers. The leaves could be beaten into kapa for clothing and made into temporary sandals.
To this day the leaves are used as covering for food in the imu (earthen oven used for the luau). And the stalks of a mature tree are added to the imu to add moisture to the baking process.
Traditionally, mai`a was planted in around the taro ponds and near dwelling sites. In keeping with tradition - mai`a is planted on Palace grounds today, near the giftshop and caretaker's cottage. Usually, one or two plants will have showy bracts of green bananas.