According to Kew Species Profiles[KSP]
- General Description
A staple food crop in its native Ethiopia, the Ethiopian banana is also a popular ornamental giving gardens a lush tropical effect with its large decorative leaves and striking purple midrib.
The Ethiopian banana is a close relative of the dessert banana (cultivars of Musa acuminata). However, as much as it looks like a 'regular' banana plant, the Ethiopian banana is not cultivated for its fruits, but rather for its vegetative parts. In southern and south-western Ethiopia, the starch-rich pseudostems and underground organs serve millions of people as a staple food, similar to potatoes elsewhere. In tropical and subtropical gardens the Ethiopian banana is a popular ornamental, producing very large 'banana leaves' marked by a conspicuous purple to purplish-brown midrib. A spectacular architectural plant, in Britain this species can be grown in containers to afford temperate gardens a tropical flair in summer.
- Species Profile
Geography and distribution
Native to tropical East and central Africa from Ethiopia and Sudan to Angola, the Ethiopian banana (like the majority of species in the Musaceae, or banana family) is a plant of moist and open habitats, rather than closed woody communities. It is usually found along swamp margins, on river banks and in open, moist mountain forests at altitudes ranging from 1,400 to 3,100 m above sea level. It is also widely cultivated in south and south-western Ethiopia.
Ensete ventricosum is a perennial plant that grows 6-12 m high. As with other members of the genus and the 'true' bananas ( Musaspp.), its unbranched 'stems' are actually pseudostems made up of tightly-overlapping leaf sheaths, left behind when the leaf blade has died. The pseudostem is 1.5-5 m tall and widens at the base, giving rise to the specific name ventricosum(Latin for swollen or inflated on one side). Both the leaf midrib and the pseudostem are often variably stained purple or purplish-brown. As in other bananas, the main pseudostem dies after flowering and fruiting. However, unlike other bananas, the Ethiopian banana rarely produces suckers unless the plants are intentionally induced to do so for vegetative propagation.
Depending on the clone (or cultivar) and environmental conditions, flowering occurs after about four to eight years. The flowers are produced in conspicuous 2-3 m long inflorescences which are borne directly at the apex of each pseudostem. The 4-8.5 cm long, white to cream-coloured flowers are bisexual or male, and occasionally also female. Bisexual and (if present) female flowers are found at the base of the inflorescence, whereas male flowers are produced closer to the apex. The floral display is supported by large maroon-purple bracts subtending large groups ('hands') of flowers.
The yellow or orange-coloured fruits are 8-15 cm long and to 4-5 cm in diameter, usually with a persistent style and floral remains. There are usually 15-25, rarely 0-14 or 26-40 very hard, black seeds per fruit.. The seeds are embedded in an edible but tasteless orange pulp and vary in size (1.2-2.3 x 1.2-1.8 x 0.9-1.6 cm). They vary in shape from nearly spherical to flattened and irregular, and from deeply striate (grooved) to almost smooth. Monkeys and birds are the most likely dispersers of the seeds.
Conservation assessments carried out by Kew
Ensete ventricosum is being monitored as part of the Sampled Red List Index Project, which aims to produce conservation assessments for a representative sample of the world’s plant species. This information will then be used to monitor trends in extinction risk and help focus conservation efforts where they are most needed.
Although also found in other East African countries, the Ethiopian banana is only grown as a crop in Ethiopia, where it has been eaten for thousands of years. In south and south-western Ethiopia, Ensete ventricosum is an important staple food crop. In this region, some 20 million people rely on the starch contained in the leaf sheaths and pseudostems for calorific intake. After chopping and grating, the pulp of the pseudostems is used as a flour to prepare 'kocho' bread, porridge or soup. The underground stem (rhizome) is also boiled and eaten like potatoes, or chopped up and left to ferment. The starchy endosperm of the hard seeds is also consumed, and the base of the flower stalk is cooked and eaten as a vegetable.
In addition to being an important food plant, the Ethiopian banana is also used as livestock feed. The leaves provide thatch, umbrellas, mats and wrapping materials, as banana leaves do elsewhere in the tropics, and the leaf stalks yield fibres for cordage and sacking. The only part of the plant that is not used is the root. In East Africa the large black seeds are used as beads and threaded to create necklaces and rosaries.
Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage
Kew's Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plant life world wide, focusing on plants under threat and those of most use in the future. Seeds are dried, packaged and stored at a sub-zero temperature in our seed bank vault.
Description of seeds:Very hard, black, variable in size (1.2-2.3 x 1.2-1.8 x 0.9-1.6 cm) and shape from nearly spherical to flattened and irregular, surface deeply striate (grooved) to almost smooth.Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank:One collection of 1,145 seeds.Seed storage behaviour:Orthodox (the seeds of this plant survive drying without significant reduction in their viability, and are therefore amenable to long-term frozen storage such as at the MSB)
Ethiopian banana at Kew
Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’ can be seen growing in theTemperate House. Other specimens of E. ventricosum are held in the behind-the-scenesTropical Nursery, the garden ofCambridge Cottage and the Orange Room atWakehurst.
Pressed and dried specimens of E. ventricosum are held in the Herbarium, one of the behind-the-scenes areas of Kew. The details, including images, of some of these can be seen online in the Herbarium Catalogue.
The Economic Botany Collection contains samples of the seeds, fibre and an alcohol distiller made from parts of the Abyssinian banana.
- Swamp margins, river banks and open, moist mountain forests, in cultivation in Ethiopia.
- Not yet assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.
According to Flora of Tropical East Africa[FTEA]
- Is the basis of an agricultural system in southern Ethiopia.
- Giant herb arising from a short upright rhizome.
- Pseudostem formed of the overlapping leaf-bases, 1.5-5 m. tall.
- Leaf-blades erect or spreading, forming a large rosette, oblong-lanceolate, to 5 × 1.5 m., glaucous or not, midrib red or green.
- Inflorescence appearing from the centre of the rosette, pendulous when mature.
- Outer tepal of male flowers 3-lobed, the lobes variable in length, 3.5-5.5 cm. long, white with orange-yellow tips; inner tepal serrate-apiculate, 1-1.5 × 1-1.7 cm., the apiculum 0.3-1.3 cm., or occasionally absent; stamens 5, 3-5 cm. long, anthers violet to purple, filaments white; staminode present or not, acicular, 0.1-1 cm. long; style acicular, 1-2 cm. long. Bracts of the male part of the inflorescence persistent or partially deciduous, each subtending ± 30-40 flowers.
- Bracts of the female/hermaphrodite part of the inflorescence persistent, partially covering the fruits. Bracts of the male part of the inflorescence persistent or partially deciduous, each subtending ± 30-40 flowers.
- Outer tepal 3-lobed, sometimes with 1-2 smaller extra acicular lobes attached to it internally; inner tepals 1-3, variable in shape with 2 wings and an apiculum up to 1.5 cm. long; stamens 0-5, 3.5 cm. long, coloured as in the male flowers; staminodes variable according to the number of stamens present; style 2.5-4 cm. long, terete, with a large capitate stigma. Outer tepal of male flowers 3-lobed, the lobes variable in length, 3.5-5.5 cm. long, white with orange-yellow tips; inner tepal serrate-apiculate, 1-1.5 × 1-1.7 cm., the apiculum 0.3-1.3 cm., or occasionally absent; stamens 5, 3-5 cm. long, anthers violet to purple, filaments white; staminode present or not, acicular, 0.1-1 cm. long; style acicular, 1-2 cm. long.
- Female and Hermaphrodite
- Outer tepal 3-lobed, sometimes with 1-2 smaller extra acicular lobes attached to it internally; inner tepals 1-3, variable in shape with 2 wings and an apiculum up to 1.5 cm. long; stamens 0-5, 3.5 cm. long, coloured as in the male flowers; staminodes variable according to the number of stamens present; style 2.5-4 cm. long, terete, with a large capitate stigma. Bracts of the female/hermaphrodite part of the inflorescence persistent, partially covering the fruits.
- Fruits 5-20 in the axil of each bract, long-obovoid, 8-15 × 3-4.5 cm., orange at maturity.
- Seeds irregularly subspherical, 1.2-2.3 × 1.2-1.8 × 0.9-1.6 cm., striate to smooth, hard, black, embedded in orange pulp.
- Fig. 1.
Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Northern Provinces, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe
Gulf of Guinea Is., Jawa, Juan Fernández Is.
- Ethiopian banana
Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman appears in other Kew resources:
Herbarium Catalogue (5 records)
First published in Kew Bull. 2: 101 (1947 publ. 1948)
-  Darbyshire, I., Kordofani, M., Farag, I., Candiga, R. & Pickering, H. (eds.) (2015) The Plants of Sudan and South Sudan . Kew publishing, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
-  (2011) Bothalia 41: 41-82
-  (2010) Flora Zambesiaca 13(4): 1-151. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
-  (2010) Journal of East African Natural History 99: 129-226
-  Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
-  Albano, P.-O. (2003) La Conaissance des Plantes Exotiques . Édisud, Aix-en-Provence.
-  Govaerts, R. (2001) World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS E-F: 1-50919
-  Ademasu Tsegaye & Westphal, E. (2002). Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman. In Oyen, L.P.A. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (eds), Plant Resources of Tropical Africa. Precursor. (Associate Editors: Davis, S.D., Chauvet, M. & Siemonsma, J.S.). PROTA Programme, Wageningen, The Netherlands. Pp. 75-79.
-  Negash, A. (2001). Diversity and conservation of enset (Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman) and its relation to household food and livelihood security in south-western Ethiopia. PhD thesis Wageningen, The Netherlands.
-  Baker, R.E.D. & Simmonds, N.W. (1953). The genus Ensete in Africa. Kew Bulletin 8: 405-416.
Flora of Tropical East Africa
International Plant Names Index
The International Plant Names Index (2016). Published on the Internet http://www.ipni.org
[B] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
Kew Species Profiles
Kew Species Profiles
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
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[F] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index and World Checkist of Selected Plant Families. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
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