A disease that wiped out the common grocery store banana more than 50 years ago threatens to do the same thing again.
From the 1800s through the 1960s a much sweeter variety of banana was mass produced and sold in grocery stores around the world.
Panama Disease all but wiped that variety out by the 1960s.
Banana producers replaced the Gros Michel banana with the disease-resistant Cavendish.
A new form of Panama Disease is now spreading through Asia and threatening to once again wipe out the main banana crop around the world.
Dr. Randy Ploetz has studied Panama Disease at the University of Florida for nearly 30 years. He says the main suppliers of Cavendish bananas to the U.S. come from Central America.
Ploetz says if the disease crosses the Atlantic it could spread quickly.
“Once you begin seeing plants dying and then go to the lab and try to figure out what’s going on it’s very widely spread,” he said. “The horse is out of the barn. It’s extremely difficult or impossible to manage then.”
Ploetz says any replacement species of banana wouldn’t be as cheap to grow and ship.
Don Chafin owns the Going Bananas Nursery in Homestead. It is one of the only places in the US that grows nearly 100 different varieties of bananas.
Chafin says the likely replacement, should Panama Disease threaten the Cavendish, is a banana known as Goldfinger.
Chafin says it is not as sweet, but resistant to the newest strain of Panama Disease.