Musa acuminata

Accession Count: 6
Common Name: banana, Cavendish banana
Family Name: Musaceae
Botanical Name: Musa acuminata
Sub Species:
Characteristics: Musa acuminata is an herbaceous perennial herb (sometimes incorrectly referred to as a tree) that grows up to about 20 feet tall. It has a stalk, called a “pseudostem,” which consists of a thick fibrous cylinder of tightly overlapping leaf bases or petioles arising from a fibrous root system consisting mainly of a fleshy rhizome (commonly called a corm) (1,2,3,4,5). The pseudostem, which contains no woody material, is frequently marked with brown or black splotches (5,6). As the pseudostem develops, large, oblong or elliptic-shaped leaves, measuring as much as 10 feet long and 2 feet wide, unfurl from the pseudostem, at the rate of one per week in warm weather (2,4,7). The tender leaves are arranged spirally around the pseudostem and may be entirely green, green with maroon blotches, or green on top and maroon beneath (2,3). The true stem or stalk of the plant, also beginning in the corm, eventually pushes its way up through the center of the pseudostem and produces a single terminal inflorescence. Initially a large tapering bud covered with layers of purple sheathes (bracts) that slough off, giving way to rows of white, creamy, yellow or orange flowers (2,3,5,7). Pistillate (female) flowers occupy the lower lows and staminate (male) flowers are found in the upper rows; rows of sterile flowers usually appear between the two (2,3,5). Pollination is carried out by wind, insects or bats, although in many varieties fruit develops parthenocarpically (without pollination)(3,6). Each row of female flowers develops into a cluster, called a “hand,” of 10-20 of the common fruit individually called “fingers.” These measure from 2½ to 12 inches long and ¾ to 2 inches wide at maturity and show a great variety in color, shape and texture (1,2,3,6,8). Up to 300 bananas, weighing over 100 pounds, can be produced on a single plant (5). Once the fruit, which is botanically considered a berry, ripens and is harvested the pseudostem dies (2,4,5,7). The plant reproduces and grows perennially by producing a new pseudostem the next season from the corm (2,3). In the wild, the plant reproduces both sexually by producing seeds and asexually by producing suckers (1,5). Cultivated varieties are almost exclusively produced asexually by cloning or tissue culture and have only vestiges of the ovules seen in the dark specks visible near the center of the fruit (2,3). 
Compound: Mus acu
Geographic Origin: Southeast Asia, Tropical India, Northern Australia
Ecozone Origin: Indomalaya
Biome Origin:
Natural History: Musa acuminata originated in southeastern Asia, probably extending from parts of tropical India to Malaysia, Indonesia, and even to northern Australia (1,2,5,8,9). According to some reports, the plant has been in cultivation for as many as 7000 years (5). The wild progenitors of the modern plant were diploid (having two sets of chromosomes) varieties, producing inedible fruit that contained numerous small, hard, black seeds and little flesh (1,2). Through hybridizations between different subspecies and varieties, seedless edible varieties were created (5). By selecting and propagating the hybrids with the sweetest and tastiest fruit, humans developed bananas into an important food crops in southeastern Asia (1). Spread of the species outside of its native range is thought to be due solely to human activity (5). Bananas were not brought to Europe until the 10th century; they were taken to the Americas in the 16th century by Portuguese sailors or Spanish explorers (2,4,5,6). The varieties found in the Pacific islands came eastward by stages from eastern Indonesia to the Marquesas and eventually to Hawaii (2, 5). Today bananas (including plantains) are grown in all humid tropical areas of the world and are the fourth largest fruit crop after grapes, citrus, and apples (2,3). Bananas are also the fourth most important food in many less-developed countries, especially in the tropics, and are the staple food for approximately 400 million people (1,9). While some Musa acuminata hybrids are diploid and can reproduce sexually, most are triploid (having three sets of chromosomes), rendering them sterile and needing to be reproduced vegetatively by means of corm sections, suckers, or tissue culture (1,2). Consequently, there is little genetic diversity in the world’s banana production, making them subject to disease epidemic (9). One triploid variety, known as the “Gros Michel,” was the commercially dominant dessert banana until the 1950s when Fusarium wilt of banana, commonly called Panama wilt disease, struck the industry (4). By 1960, the production of Gros Michel was decimated by the disease, forcing the export industry to find a new resistant variety (2,10). Today most bananas found in supermarkets belong to another triploid Musa acuminata subgroup, the “Cavendish,” which is more resistant to Panama wilt disease (2,3,4). Cavendish bananas are, however, subject to other diseases which are predicted by some to eventually bring about their demise (11). There are many other varieties of Musa acuminata, but these are generally not considered to be as flavorful or to have as pleasing a texture as Cavendish bananas (11). Cooking bananas, which are commonly called plantains in the United States and are more starchy and less sweet than dessert bananas, are hybrids of Musa acuminata with another species from the same genus, Musa balbisiana (1,5,12). 

The first literary reference to the banana is in the Sanskrit epic Ramayana, dating to ca. 500 B.C.; it is also mentioned as the forbidden fruit in the Koran (4). The Latin name for the genus, Musa, may have come from the Arabic word for the fruit and was accepted by Linnaeus because it could have referred to Antonius Musa, the physician of the Emperor Augustus (12). The specific epithet acuminata means “tapered,” “pointed,” or “sharp” in Latin, perhaps referring to the shape of the fruit, although some have suggested it refers to the flavor (4). The common name “banana” comes from the Arabic word “banan,” meaning “finger.” (13). 
Cultivation Notes: Musa acuminata is a popular choice among gardeners seeking an exotic and tropical feel for their landscape that comes with the plant’s large leaves (3,7). The plant is generally reproduced from seeds in breeding programs. Home-gardeners however, may be able to obtain and use existing corms or nursery-grown plants (2). It is also regularly reproduced from suckers (3,14). The plant should be located in the warmest location possible, in full sun and protected from the wind; it is tolerant of most soils but will do best in deep, rich, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5 (2,3,7). In warmer climates, it can be planted in the ground; in cooler regions, it can be grown in containers (3). The plant’s ideal temperature is about 80° F (2). Plant growth will slow below 53° F and above 80° F and will stop completely at 100° F (3). The plant can tolerate temperatures to 28° F for short periods of time, but extended exposure to temperatures below freezing will kill the leaves and the pseudostem to the ground (3,14). Temperatures below 22° F can kill the corm (3). If freezing temperatures occur at flowering time the bud may be prevented from emerging; if they occur after fruit formation, maturity may be delayed or suspended (2). If cold temperatures are expected, the plant should be covered or wrapped; plants in containers can be brought indoors (3). Wind will shred the leaves, exposing fruit to sunburn, and if strong enough, can topple fruit-bearing plants (2,7). Because of its large leaves, Musa acuminata requires lots of water especially during warm weather or while fruiting. Under these conditions the soil should be kept moist, but standing water should be avoided (3). The plant will benefit from mulching and should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer about once a month when fruiting (3). Only one pseudostem at a time should be allowed to grow large enough to fruit (2). This helps the plant to put all of its energy into producing fruit (3). Other suckers should be removed and can be transplanted, if desired, to produce more plants (3). After the pseudostem has grown for about 6 months, one sucker can be left to become the pseudostem for the next season (2,3). The inflorescence stalk can take from 10 to 15 months to appear and the fruit can take anywhere from six to nine months to mature (2,3,14). Once the bananas are plump and mature (resembling green supermarket bananas), the entire stalk can be removed from the plant and placed in a dark warm location to ripen (3). Alternatively, for plant-ripened fruit, the stalk can remain on the plant and hands can be cut down as desired (3). While the stalk is on the plant it should be protected from the sun to avoid sunburn and the plant will likely need to be propped (2,3). After harvest, the pseudostem should be cut down and removed (3). Container plants may need to be repotted occasionally as new pseudostems develop (3). 
Ethnobotany: Musa acuminata has proven to be a very useful plant in a variety of ways. The fruit serves as a food staple in millions of homes. It is a source of potassium, dietary fiber and essential vitamins (4). Raw, it is eaten out of hand or sliced in desserts, fruit cups, salads, and sandwiches (2). It is served mashed in bread, muffins, or pancakes (2). Pureed banana is used in many products, including cakes, ice creams, milkshakes, beverages, and is a popular baby food (2). Bananas are baked, boiled, or cooked in a variety of ways and eaten as side dishes, sauces or jams (2). They are often sliced and quick-frozen or canned in syrup for later use (2).  Bananas are often dried as flakes or chips and eaten in cereals or trail mixes (2). Dried bananas are occasionally ground into flour used to make pastries or other baked good (2). In Africa, bananas are fermented into beer and wine; they can be used to make vinegar (2). Reject or green bananas are used in many countries for feeding pigs, cattle, and poultry (2). Flowers are used to treat bronchitis, diabetes, dysentery and ulcers (2). Poultices from the leaves are used for burns or other skin conditions (2). Leaves from the plant are used as plates, to line cooking pits, to wrap food, as sunshades, umbrellas, for thatching, or burial shrouds (1,2,8). In India, the pseudostem is cooked and eaten as a vegetable or canned with potatoes and curry (2). New shoots may be cooked and eaten (2). In some countries, pseudostems are bound together and used as rafts or split and used as seat cushions (2).  Fiber from the pseudostem is used as fishing line or woven into cloth, soles for shoes, or floorcoverings (2). Dried banana peels are used to darken leather (2). Ash produced from burning the dried peel is used as potash for making soap (2). The ash from unripe peels and leaves is used to treat dysentery, diarrhea, and malignant ulcers (2). In parts of Africa, the leaves, pseudostems and peels are chopped, fermented, dried and used as an organic fertilizer (2). The roots are used to treat digestive problems (2). The sap of the plant has been used to treat hemorrhoids, insect stings, leprosy, hysteria, epilepsy, fevers, hemorrhages, and digestive problems (2). Hindus consider the plant a symbol of prosperity and fertility. They place the leaves and fruit on doorsteps of homes where marriages take place (2). Banana plants are sometimes placed in the corner of a rice field as a charm (2). Early Hawaiians used the plant as a truce flag during wars (2). 

Height: 16 - 20 feet
Width: 11 - 15 feet
Growth Rate: Fast Growing
Grow Season: Summer
Flower Season: Summer
Color: White
Function: Accent
Spread: Spreading
Allergen: Non-allergenic
Invasive: Benign
Toxicity: Benign
Hardy: Tender
Water Use: High Water Use

1. “Musa acuminata.” Kew Botanical Gardens. Accessed May 31, 2015.

2. Morton, J. (1987), “Banana,” in Fruits of Warm Climates. Center for New Crops & Crop Products, Purdue University. Accessed May 31, 2015.

3. “Banana.” California Rare Fruit Growers. Accessed May 31, 2015. 

4. “Musa acuminata.” Bioweb, University of Wisconsin System. Accessed May 31, 2015.  
5. “Musa acuminata.” Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed May 31, 2015. 

6. “Wild banana.” The Eden Project. Accessed May 31, 2015.
7. “Musa acuminata.” Missouri Botanical Garden.”  Accessed May 31, 2015.

8. “Banana (Musa acuminata).” Rainforest Alliance. Accessed May 31, 2015.
9.  “Musa acuminata (Banana).” The Colgate University Greenhouse. Accessed May 31, 2015.
10. “Musa acuminata.” ProMusa, Biodiversity International. Accessed May 31, 2015.
11. “Yes, We’ll Have No Bananas.” Common Dreams. Accessed May 31, 2015.
12. “Musa.” Accessed May 31, 2015. 

13. “All about bananas.” Banana Link. Accessed May 31, 2015. 

14. “Banana.” Desert-tropicals. Accessed May 31, 2015. 


Musa acuminata