Figure 1
Figure 1

Figure 2
Figure 2

Figure 3
Figure 3
1 Plantain and banana

Plantain and banana (Musa spp., or Musa in this document) are giant perennial herbs (Figure 1) which originated in Southeast Asia. Plantain and banana cultivars evolved by natural hybridization between the two species M. acuminata (contributing genome A) and M. balbisiana (contributing genome B).

All plantains and almost all important bananas are triploid (2n = 3x = 33 chromosomes). Plantain and banana are monocotyledonous plants, belonging to the section Eumusa within the genus Musa of the family Musaceae in the order Scitamineae (Table 1).

Plantain and banana are important food crops in the humid forest and mid-altitude agroecologies of sub-Saharan Africa. They provide more than 25% of the carbohydrates for 70 million people. The area between the lowlands of Guinea and Liberia in West Africa and the central basin of Zaire in Central Africa produces more than 50% of the plantain in the world.

Table 1. Taxonomic classification of the most important plantain/banana cultivated in Africa.

Class Monocotyledonae
Order Scitamineae
Family Musaceae
Genus Musa
Section Eumusa
Species M. acuminata (AA)
  M. balbisiana (BB)
Groups AAA dessert and highland beer and cooking bananas
  AAB plantains and dessert bananas
  ABB cooking bananas

In the East African highlands, beer and cooking bananas are the staple food and the region records the highest consumption figures in the world. Plantain and banana are high-yielding crops and particularly suited to the farming systems in sub-Saharan agroecologies.

Several criteria are used to distinguish the different types of plantain and banana further:

  • form of consumption
  • inflorescence type
  • height of pseudostem
  • genome composition
  • Form of consumption. Plantain and cooking/beer banana are easily distinguished from dessert banana by their method of consumption. Plantain and cooking /beer banana require some form of processing, whereas dessert banana is eaten raw when ripe.

    Inflorescence type. All banana cultivars have the same type of inflorescence (or 'bunch'). Plantains have different types, and this can be used to subdivide and classify plantains.

    Bananas have the complete Musa inflorescence: female flowers, neutral flowers (which do not develop into fruits, and fall off during bunch maturation), and a terminal male bud (see Section 7).

    Plantain is subdivided into:

  • French plantain (also called 'Hembra')
  • French Horn plantain
  • False Horn plantain (also called 'Macho', 'Harton')
  • Horn plantain
  • The subdivision depends upon:

  • completeness of inflorescence at maturity
  • presence of neutral flowers and male bud at maturity
  • number of hands
  • number and weight of fingers
  • See Table 2 for details.

    Table 2. Classification of Musa according to inflorescence type.

    Group Inflorescence Neutral

    Banana Complete  Many Yes 5-10 65-155 100-300
    French plantain Complete  Many Yes 6-12 60-170 10-300
    French Horn plantain Incomplete  Many No 7-8 30-85 200-300
    False Horn plantain Incomplete  Few No 5-12 25-80 230-400
    Horn plantain Incomplete  None No 1-5 1-50 250-610

    Figure 2 illustrates the three main inflorescence types: French, False Horn, and Horn plantains. French Horn plantain is an intermediate type between French plantain and False Horn plantain.

    French plantain. The inflorescence is complete at maturity. Hands consist of numerous rather small fingers, followed by the bunch axis covered with persistent neutral flowers. The terminal male bud is large and persistent.

    False Horn plantain. The inflorescence is incomplete. Hands consist of large fingers followed by a few neutral flowers. At maturity, no male bud is present.

    French Horn plantain. The inflorescence resembles the inflorescence of False Horn plantain, but French Horn has many more neutral flowers.

    Horn plantain. The inflorescence is incomplete. There are few hands, consisting of a few large fingers. Neutral flowers and male bud are not present. A tail or protuberance terminates the bunch axis. Horn plantain resembles False Horn plantain, but has larger fingers and no neutral flowers.

    Height of pseudostem. The height of the pseudostem, that is, the distance between the soil and the petioles of the highest leaves, is used for sub-grouping plantain cultivars into 'giant', 'medium', and 'small' (Figure 3). Musa clones with short internodes are called 'dwarf' cultivars.

    Genome composition. Genotypes are classified by the genome composition, that is, the expression of M. acuminata and M. balbisiana characteristics (Table 3). Dessert banana and East African highland cooking/ beer bananas are categorized as AAA, plantains as AAB, and cooking bananas as ABB.

    Table 3. Classification of Musa according to genome composition, form of consumption, and growing area.

    Genome Form of consumption Growing area

    AAA Dessert banana Throughout Africa
    AAA Cooking/beer bananas East African highlands
    AAB Plantains/dessert bananas Humid lowlands of West
    and Central Africa
    ABB Cooking bananas East African highlands

      Objectives, Study materials, Practicals
      1 Plantain and banana
      2 Growth cycle
      3 Corm
      4 Suckers
      5 Roots
      6 Pseudostem, leaves
      7 Inflorescence 
      8 Bibliography
      9 Suggestions for trainers

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