1. Family: Musaceae Juss.
    1. Genus: Musa L.
      1. Musa balbisiana Colla

        Musa balbisiana is one of the wild ancestors of the cultivated plantain. Plantain, which is a hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, is much starchier and less sweet than dessert bananas which are mainly bred from Musa acuminata


    Kew Species Profiles

    General Description
    This giant herb is one of the ancestors of the plantain, whose fruits are a staple crop for millions of people throughout the tropics.

    Musa balbisiana is one of the wild ancestors of the cultivated plantain. Plantain, which is a hybrid between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, is much starchier and less sweet than dessert bananas which are mainly bred from Musa acuminata

    Plantains are usually cooked and eaten as a vegetable. They contain high levels of minerals such as phosphorus, calcium and potassium as well as vitamins A and C. Morphologically plantain, like banana, is very different to its wild ancestors. The wild species contains seeds while the cultivars are almost always seedless (parthenocarpic) and are therefore sterile and dependent on vegetative propagation by means of corms. For this reason, they lack genetic diversity and are therefore susceptible to pests and diseases.

    Plantains are extremely versatile and, beyond their use as food for humans, they provide shelter, building materials and fibre among other things, and are even used in rituals and religious ceremonies.

    Species Profile
    Geography and distribution

    Plantains are native to Southeast Asia where their inedible, seed-bearing, diploid (containing two sets of chromosomes) ancestors can still be found today.

    Edible banana first occurred through the natural crossing of various inedible diploid species of  Musa acuminata  resulting in sterile hybrids which were seedless (parthenocarpic) and triploid, containing three sets of chromosomes. Local people soon discovered that these hybrids had edible fruits and they began to propagate the plants vegetatively by suckers. Before long the crosses that produced the tastiest fruits were selected, cultivated, propagated and distributed as a food crop.

    Plantain resulted from the introduction of genes from  Musa balbisiana  to  Musa acuminata clones, which conferred hardiness and drought tolerance and disease resistance to the hybrids. It also improved nutritional value and increased their suitability for cooking (plantains need to be cooked before being eaten).  Musa balbisiana  is found mainly on the margins of tropical rainforests.


    Overview: There is a huge amount of morphological variability in the cultivated banana. Musa spp . - which include banana and plantain - are not trees but giant herbs with a pseudostem (formed from the bases of leaves rolled tightly around each other). Members of this genus can grow up to 15 m tall making them the largest perennial herb in the world.

    Roots: Plantain plants cultivated vegetatively do not have one main taproot. Instead they have a root system that is fleshy and adventitious. 

    Leaves: Leaves are arranged spirally and are up to 2.7 metres long and 60 cm wide. 

    Flowers and fruits: Male flowers are borne at the tip of the inflorescence and, beneath them, separated by several sterile flowers, are the female flowers which develop into fruits. In the case of the cultivated plantain, the fruits develop parthenocarpically and are seedless. The fruits are arranged in hands, each formed of 10-20 bananas (fingers).


    Plantain can be prepared in a number of different ways. Unlike dessert bananas, which derive mainly from  Musa acuminata , plantain is much starchier and less sweet and needs to be cooked to be fully enjoyed.

    In Latin America they are commonly sliced diagonally and fried in olive oil and eaten as an accompaniment to the daily meal.In the Dominican Republic ripe plantains are mashed and mixed with beaten eggs, flour, butter, milk and clovers and layered in a casserole with beef, piccalilli and raisins, topped with grated cheese and baked in the oven.In Guatemala, a delicious sweet dish is made by boiling plantains and serving them with honey.

    Plantains can be deep-fried until crisp and then seasoned and eaten as a snack. In Ghana, pancakes (called ‘fatale’) are made by mixing in ripe plantains with fermented wholemeal dough of maize which is then seasoned with onions, ginger, salt and pepper and fried in palm oil.

    When there is a surplus of plantains in the summer they can be dried and stored so that they can be consumed out of season. They can also be ground into flour and used to bake cakes and pastries. In Southeast Asia the terminal male bud of  Musa balbisiana  is soaked in salty water and then eaten as a vegetable prepared in curries. Dried green plantains which are ground and roasted can also be used as a substitute for coffee.

    Beyond its use as a food crop, plantain fibre is used to make ropes, tablemats, handbags and paper.

    Crop wild relatives of plantain

    The Millennium Seed Bank and the Global Crop Diversity Trust are engaged in a ten-year project, called 'Adapting Agriculture to Climate Change'. The project aims to protect, collect and prepare the wild relatives of 29 key food crops, including plantain, so that they are available to pre-breeders for the development of new varieties that are more resilient to the effects of climate change.

    Millennium Seed Bank: Seed storage

    The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership aims to save plants worldwide, focusing on those plants which are under threat and those which are of most use in the future. Once seeds have been collected they are dried, packaged and stored at -20°C in Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank vault. 

    Number of seed collections stored in the Millennium Seed Bank: One

    Seed storage behaviour: Intermediate (meaning that the seeds are more tolerant of desiccation than recalcitrants, though that tolerance is much more limited than is the case with orthodox seeds) 

    This species at Kew

    Pressed and dried specimens of plantain are held in Kew's Herbarium, where they are available to researchers by appointment. Details and images of some of these specimens can be seen online in Kew's Herbarium Catalogue.

    Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam
    Musa species grow well in warm, humid tropical and subtropical climates. It prefers well-drained, moist soil and can grow on a range of different soil types including sandy, loamy and clay soils.
    Widespread in cultivation.
    Food, building materials, fibre.



    Found In:

    Andaman Is., Assam, Bismarck Archipelago, China South-Central, China Southeast, East Himalaya, Hainan, India, Japan, Jawa, Myanmar, Nansei-shoto, Nepal, New Guinea, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Tibet, Vietnam

    Introduced Into:

    Borneo, Gulf of Guinea Is., Hawaii, Malaya, Nicobar Is., Taiwan

    Common Names


    Musa balbisiana Colla appears in other Kew resources:

    Date Identified Reference Herbarium Specimen Type Status
    Jan 1, 1995 Marcan, A. [1155], Thailand K000782763
    Simmonds, H.W. [B.E. 81], India 18855.000
    Simmonds, H.W. [B.E. 46], New Guinea 18857.000
    Simmonds, N.W. [B.E. 78], Thailand 18858.000
    Simmonds, N.W. [B.E. 41], New Guinea 18859.000
    New Guinea 21994.000
    Simmonds, H.W. [B.E. 12], Papua New Guinea 22000.000

    First published in Mem. Reale Accad. Sci. Torino 25: 384 (1820)

    Accepted in:

    • [3] (2012) Flora of Taiwan , ed. 2, Suppl.: 1-414. Editorial Committee of the Flora of Taiwan, Second Edition, National Taiwan University
    • [4] (2011) Bothalia 41: 41-82
    • [7] (2008) Adansonia , III, 30: 63-112
    • [9] (2008) The Plantsman , n.s., 7: 156-161
    • [11] Nelson Sutherland, C.H. (2008) Catálogo de las plantes vasculares de Honduras. Espermatofitas . SERNA/Guaymuras, Tegucigalpa, Honduras
    • [13] Govaerts, R. (2004) World Checklist of Monocotyledons Database in ACCESS . The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew


    • [1] (2016) Flora of Japan IVb: 1-335. Kodansha Ltd., Tokyo
    • [2] Morton, J. (2013) Fruits of warm climates. Echo Point Books and Media.
    • [5] Beentje, H. (2010). The Kew Plant Glossary: an Illustrated Dictionary of Plant Terms. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
    • [6] Robinson J. C. & Galán Saúco (2010). Bananas and Plantains. Second Edition. Cabi Publishing
    • [8] (2008) Journal of Economic and Taxonomic Botany 32: 403-500
    • [10] Mabberley, D.J. (2008). Mabberley’s Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses. Third edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
    • [12] Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (2008). Seed Information Database (SID). Version 7.1.


    Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone
    The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families (2017). Published on the internet at http://www.ipni.org and http://apps.kew.org/wcsp
    [A] 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
    [B] © Copyright 2017 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

    Kew Species Profiles
    Kew Species Profiles
    [D] http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0