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Banana Grove

Ever wonder how bananas grow?
     Well, neither did I until recently.
     We live in Hong Kong's countryside and for years I've seen banana trees -- even occasionally looked up inside the foliage to a big bunch of green bananas hiding there -- but I'd never really watched them develop from the huge maroon bud where they begin.
     All that changed when a new bud matured the other day -- next to a wall that was close enough and high enough that I could reach it, watch it and photograph it.
     The Banana Land gallery is like the Lotus Pond series in that it is somewhat informative, so it contains both reference and art photos.

Banana Bud

I didn't notice this bud -- about 18 inches long (46 cm) -- until it had tipped over towards the ground under its own weight. It was 12 days from the time I saw the unopened bud until the final picture was taken, so once things start moving they really get going. I took 522 photos over four days and discarded 480.
     The petals at the base of the bud -- opposite the tip -- begin opening first and clusters of downward-curving young bananas appear. They immediately begin growing upwards, towards the sun.
     Each banana has a flower at its end -- the black scab you see on your breakfast banana, opposite the stem end. The flowers last only a couple of days before they either wither in place or drop off. Leela tells me that children in Malaysia (and probably everywhere else where they know what going on), pick up the flowers and squeeze the last drop of nectar onto their tongues.
     You'll have to imagine that but it's a happy mental image.


On a technical note, these images were shot with a Canon G2, many using either a Hoya +4 Close-Up Filter or a Hoya +10 Macro Lens. Since I was constantly switching them, I can't really tell you which one I used for a particular shot, although the very close-up photos were likely taken with the +10.
     One of the problems with using auxiliary macro filters and lenses is that your depth of field is very small, even at f8 -- your wasp's head may be in focus, but nothing else; or one eye and not the other. Letting my camera choose the settings under natural light gave me extremely shallow depths of field and shutter speeds that made handheld shots of stationery bananas difficult and fast-moving wasps impossible.
     So I often used flash -- an external Canon 420EX with a Sto-Fen Omnibounce diffuser (if I keep talking like this, you'll think these pictures are impossible to take -- not true). It only took one outing before I realized that when your lens is four inches away from your wasp, your external flash is way above his head, so I bought a Canon ST-2 Off-Camera Cord.
     With the off-camera cord, I had two feet of cable that allowed me to hold the camera in my right hand while positioning the flash wherever it worked best. To produce the red shots, for example, I held it on the other side of one of the large, leather-like petals which have a dark maroon inside -- and you can see the eerie red results.


Like a lot of life, shooting "Banana Land" was a matter of timing and luck -- timing in that Leela pointed out the bud, which is almost always hidden unless you're looking for it, which was ready to blossom. And luck that there was a wall I could stand on to photograph.
     It was also lucky that the wasps were more intent on flowers than photographers. I have heard that wasps are pretty decent if you 1) aren't afraid of them, 2) don't bug them, 3) don't wear cologne, and 4) aren't threatening their nest. Whether all this is fact or superstition, I don't know, but these guys left me alone. Considering that I was balanced on a 10-inch-wide wall with a ravine on one side and broken tile shards on the other, I'm grateful.
     For me, this gallery is a reminder of the beauty and mystery involved in creating one of the small pleasures of our lives -- a banana -- and a chance to share it with those who don't have a banana tree of their own.

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