1. Family: Musaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Ensete Bruce ex Horan.
      1. Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman

        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.

    [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.

    Description

    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.

    Uses

    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.

    Distribution
    Ethiopia
    Ecology
    Swamp margins, river banks and open, moist mountain forests, in cultivation in Ethiopia.
    Conservation
    Not yet assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria.
    Hazards

    None known.

    [FTEA]
    Note
    Is the basis of an agricultural system in southern Ethiopia.
    Habit
    Giant herb arising from a short upright rhizome.
    Stem
    Pseudostem formed of the overlapping leaf-bases, 1.5-5 m. tall.
    Leaves
    Leaf-blades erect or spreading, forming a large rosette, oblong-lanceolate, to 5 × 1.5 m., glaucous or not, midrib red or green.
    Inflorescences
    Inflorescence appearing from the centre of the rosette, pendulous when mature.
    Male
    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
    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.
    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
    Fruits 5-20 in the axil of each bract, long-obovoid, 8-15 × 3-4.5 cm., orange at maturity.
    Seeds
    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.
    Figures
    Fig. 1.
    [KSP]
    Use
    Food (leaves, stem, seeds). Ornamental.
    [FTEA]
    Use
    The corms are harvested just before flowering, and the stored starch extracted.

    Images

    Distribution

    Found In:

    Angola, Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Northern Provinces, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, Zaïre, Zimbabwe

    Introduced Into:

    Gulf of Guinea Is., Jawa, Juan Fernández Is.

    Common Names

    English
    Ethiopian banana

    Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Engler, A. [2254], Tanzania K000099681 isotype
    Kirk, J [1777], Tanzania K000099716 Unknown type material
    Buchanan, J. [470] K000099717 holotype
    Wordsell, W.C. [s.n.], South Africa K000308007
    Mingard, H. [19], South Africa K000308008

    First published in Kew Bull. 2: 101 (1947 publ. 1948)

    Accepted in:

    • [1] 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.
    • [2] (2011) Bothalia 41: 41-82
    • [3] (2010) Flora Zambesiaca 13(4): 1-151. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [4] (2010) Journal of East African Natural History 99: 129-226
    • [5] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
    • [6] Albano, P.-O. (2003) La Conaissance des Plantes Exotiques . Édisud, Aix-en-Provence.
    • [8] Govaerts, R. (2001) World Checklist of Seed Plants Database in ACCESS E-F: 1-50919

    Literature

    • [7] 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.
    • [9] 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.
    • [10] Baker, R.E.D. & Simmonds, N.W. (1953). The genus Ensete in Africa. Kew Bulletin 8: 405-416.

    Sources

    Flora of Tropical East Africa
    [A] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0

    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
    [C] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [D]

    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
    World Checklist of Selected Plant Families(2016). Published on the Internet http://apps.kew.org/wcsp/
    [E] See http://kew.org/about-kew/website-information/legal-notices/index.htm You may use data on these Terms and Conditions and on further condition that: The data is not used for commercial purposes; You may copy and retain data solely for scholarly, educational or research purposes; You may not publish our data, except for small extracts provided for illustrative purposes and duly acknowledged; You acknowledge the source of the data by the words "With the permission of the Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew" in a position which is reasonably prominent in view of your use of the data; Any other use of data or any other content from this website may only be made with our prior written agreement. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
    [F] © Copyright 2016 International Plant Names Index and World Checkist of Selected Plant Families. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
    [G] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checkist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0