Ed Note: In 2005 Dan Koeppel traveled to Central America to begin his research on the banana—a fruit whose ubiquity, he discovered, may very well prove to be its downfall. His book, Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World, was recently published to much acclaim. Here's the feature that started it all.
"A Banana," says Juan Fernando Aguilar, "is not just a banana." The bearded botanist and I are traipsing through one of the world's most unusual banana plantations, moving down row after row of towering plants and ducking into the shade of broad leaves in an attempt to avoid the Central American midday heat. In an area about the size of a U.S. shopping mall, Aguilar, 46, is growing more than 300 banana varieties. Most commercial growing facilities handle just a single banana type-the one we Americans slice into our morning cereal.