What do high blood pressure and Panama Disease have in common?
Panama Disease is a silent killer
Silent killers are diseases that cause subtle symptoms, which often go undetected or unnoticed. But, after some time, the diseases may cause serious complications or sometimes death. Death of the poor person with high blood pressure or the banana plant with Panama Disease.
Dancing bananas begin with a sucker
Banana are typically propagated by suckers. These are young plants emerging from the below-ground stem of the banana plant – the corm. Each sucker can be used to start a new banana mat. After the motherplant set fruit, the above plant tissue dies off. The farmer harvests the banana bunch, chops down the motherplant and continues with the surviving sucker. This practise makes the banana plantation move a bit each year. After some time it looks as if the plantation had danced around its original site.
Propagating bananas by suckers is easy and cheap.
But if Panama Disease is around, it’s dangerous. An initial infection of the motherplant by the soil-borne fungal spores will go by unnoticed. In the second season (i.e. with the first sucker) symptoms will be mild – the yield will be a bit lower. In the third season, the yield will be noticeably lower and in the fourth season the plant will start wilting and produce little or no fruits at all.
Panama Disease spreads through suckers
Chances are high that in the meantime the farmer has planted infected suckers at other sites, given them to neighbours or sold them. And so the killer disease silently spreads.
Contaminated planting material was likely caused the recent introduction of Panama Disease to Jordan, Pakistan and Mozambique.
Once Panama Disease is present in a location, it will stay. The fungus produces spores that remain viable in the soil for up to 30 years. This makes it impossible to grow susceptible bananas for decades.