Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman

First published in Kew Bull. 2: 101 (1947 publ. 1948)
This species is accepted
The native range of this species is Ethiopia to Northern Prov. It is a herbaceous tree and grows primarily in the seasonally dry tropical biome. It is used as animal food, a medicine and invertebrate food, has environmental uses and for food.

Descriptions

Bernal, R., Gradstein, S.R. & Celis, M. (eds.). 2015. Catálogo de plantas y líquenes de Colombia. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. http://catalogoplantasdecolombia.unal.edu.co

Distribution
Cultivada en Colombia; Alt. 1500 - 2600 m.; Andes.
Morphology General Habit
Hierba
[CPLC]

Kew Species Profiles

General Description

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 Africa, from Ethiopia 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 ( Musa spp.), 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 up to 4-5 cm in diameter, usually with a persistent style and floral remains. There are usually 15-25 very hard, black seeds per fruit, although numbers vary from 0-40. 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 the most important staple food crop. In this region, 11-15 million people rely on the starch contained in the leaf sheaths and pseudostems for their survival. 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.

[KSP]

Distribution
Biogeografic region: Andean. Elevation range: 1500–2600 m a.s.l. Cultivated in Colombia. Colombian departments: Antioquia, Bogotá DC, Cundinamarca.
Habit
Herb.
Conservation
IUCN Red List Assessment (2021): LC.
Ecology
Habitat according IUCN Habitats Classification: forest and woodland, shrubland, artificial - terrestrial.
[UPFC]

Extinction risk predictions for the world's flowering plants to support their conservation (2024). Bachman, S.P., Brown, M.J.M., Leão, T.C.C., Lughadha, E.N., Walker, B.E. https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.19592

Conservation
Predicted extinction risk: not threatened. Confidence: confident
[AERP]

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/22486245/22486942

Conservation
LC - least concern
[IUCN]

Seed Collecting Guide. RBG Kew (2013-2016)

Morphology General Habit
giant herb arising from a short upright rhizome
Morphology Stem
pseudostems formed of overlapping leaf-bases, 1.5 - 7 (9) m tall
Morphology Leaves
blades forming a large rosette, oblong-lanceolate, to 5 x 1.5 m, midrib red or green
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
inflorescence appearing from centre of rosette, pendulous when mature
Morphology Reproductive morphology Flowers Calyx
calyx of male flowers 3-lobed, lobes variable in length, 3.5 - 5.5 cm long, white with orange tips; corolla serrate-apiculate, 1-1.5 x 1-1.7 cm, 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, needle like 0.1-1 cm long; style needle like, 1-2 cm long calyx spathaceous, 3-lobed, sometimes with 1-2 smaller extra narrow pointed lobes attached to it internally; petals 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 male flowers; staminodes variable according to number of stamens present; style 2.5 - 4 cm long, terete, with a large capitate stigma
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences Bracts
bracts of female or hermaphrodite part of inflorescence persistent, partially covering fruits bracts of male part of infloresence up to 55 x 18 cm, each subtending 30-40 flowers
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
5-20 in axil of each bract, long-obovoid, (7)8-15 x 3-4.5 cm, orange at maturity
Morphology Reproductive morphology Seeds
seeds irregularly subspherical, 1.2-2.3 x 1.2-1.8 x 0.9-1.6 cm, striate to smooth, hard, black, embedded in orange pulp.
Ecology
montane and submontane forests, often apparently benefiting from disturbance. altitude:800 - 2250 m
Distribution
Tropical Africa.
Conservation
Near endangered
Phenology
Flower (no data), fruit (no data)
[SCG]

Musaceae, J.M. Lock. Flora of Tropical East Africa. 1993

Note
Is the basis of an agricultural system in southern Ethiopia.
Morphology General Habit
Giant herb arising from a short upright rhizome.
Morphology Stem
Pseudostem formed of the overlapping leaf-bases, 1.5-5 m. tall.
Morphology Leaves
Leaf-blades erect or spreading, forming a large rosette, oblong-lanceolate, to 5 × 1.5 m., glaucous or not, midrib red or green.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences
Inflorescence appearing from the centre of the rosette, pendulous when mature.
sex 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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Inflorescences 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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology 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.
sex 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.
Morphology Reproductive morphology Fruits
Fruits 5-20 in the axil of each bract, long-obovoid, 8-15 × 3-4.5 cm., orange at maturity.
Morphology Reproductive morphology 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.
Habitat
Disturbed places in upland forest, often in ravines and on steep slopes, or in swamps and on river banks, but also sometimes in drier lowland forests; 900-2250 m.
Distribution
poorly represented in herbaria because of the difficulty of making collectionsEthiopia and Cameroon south to Angola and South Africa (Transvaal) K3 K4 K5 T2 T3 T4 T6 T7 U1 U2 U4
[FTEA]

Bernal, R., G. Galeano, A. Rodríguez, H. Sarmiento y M. Gutiérrez. 2017. Nombres Comunes de las Plantas de Colombia. http://www.biovirtual.unal.edu.co/nombrescomunes/

Vernacular
plátano de Abisinia
[UNAL]

Uses

Use
Food (leaves, stem, seeds). Ornamental.
[KSP]

Use Animal Food
Used as animal food.
Use Environmental
Environmental uses.
Use Gene Sources
Used as gene sources.
Use Food
Used for food.
Use Invertebrate Food
Used as invertebrate food.
Use Materials
Used as material.
Use Medicines
Medical uses.
[UPFC]

Use
The corms are harvested just before flowering, and the stored starch extracted.
[FTEA]

Common Names

English
Abyssinian Banana, Ethiopian banana

Sources

  • Angiosperm Extinction Risk Predictions v1

    • Angiosperm Threat Predictions
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0
  • Catálogo de Plantas y Líquenes de Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Colombian resources for Plants made Accessible

    • ColPlantA 2021. Published on the Internet at http://colplanta.org
    • https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
  • Flora of Tropical East Africa

    • Flora of Tropical East Africa
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Herbarium Catalogue Specimens

    • Digital Image © Board of Trustees, RBG Kew http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
  • IUCN Categories

    • IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Kew Backbone Distributions

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Living Collection Database

    • Common Names from Plants and People Africa http://www.plantsandpeopleafrica.com/
  • Kew Names and Taxonomic Backbone

    • The International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants 2024. Published on the Internet at http://www.ipni.org and https://powo.science.kew.org/
    • © Copyright 2023 International Plant Names Index and World Checklist of Vascular Plants. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0
  • Kew Science Photographs

    • Copyright applied to individual images
  • Kew Species Profiles

    • Kew Species Profiles
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Seed Collection Guides

    • Seed Collection Guides
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Universidad Nacional de Colombia

    • ColPlantA database
    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0
  • Useful Plants and Fungi of Colombia

    • http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0