The Q&A Archives: Abyssinian Banana

Question: I have been looking for a tree that looks like a banana tree but different that grows at every corner in Ethiopia. I just found an article that has Abyssinian Banana. The name ?Abyssinia? and the look of the plant indicate that it is the same plant that grows in Ethiopia. While I was browsing the FQA page, I saw someone asking ?about banana growing in the middle of Abyssinian Banana tree.? The plant from Ethiopia I am looking for does not grow banana. It definitely is not a banana tree. Before I go out and start looking for Abyssinia banana tree, can you confirm if it grows banana or not. Also if Monrovia is carrying this plant, where in my area can I find this tree?

Answer: Let's see if we can determine exactly which plant you're looking for. Bananas are herbaceous; the stem is a horizontal rhizome that grows underground. A bud or 'eye' on the rhizome sends up a tightly packed spiral of leaves; the tight bundle of leaf bases forms a pseudostem. When sufficiently mature, the inflorescence grows from the rhizome up through the center of the leaf bases and emerges at the top. Colored bracts along the inflorescence subtend each cluster of flowers--the hands of future bananas.

Depending upon the expert, there are twenty-five to forty species of Musa and hundreds of cultivars. The edible bananas and plantains are Musa acuminata and Musa X paradisiaca. Musa acuminata has diploid and polyploid forms; Musa X paradisiaca are mostly tetraploids having derived full chromosome complements from their parents, M. acuminata and M. balbisiana. Because of the odd complements of chromosomes, edible bananas/plantains usually have only vestigial seeds.

The ornamental or flowering banana (Musa ornata Roxburgh) is grown for its good looks. Since it is diploid (normal chromosome count), it will form viable black seeds within the berry. Ornamental banana flowers are sheltered under the pink bracts until ready for pollination.

When the pink bract curls back, it exposes a single row of yellowish orange pistillate (female) flowers, instead of two rows like commercial bananas. The modified petals sit atop the ovary which already has the shape of a tiny banana. Male flowers are also in single rows, but are situated further along the inflorescence and will not mature until later.

After the berries have ripened, the pseudostem dies and collapses. But new buds along the rhizome are already sending up new bundles of leaves.

ENSETE ventricosum is known by the common name "Abyssinian banana". Unpredictably the size of this ornamental banana tree can vary from 15' to 34' depending mainly on the warmth and duration of your growing season. The leaf stems are noticeably lower on the pseudostem causing a wider overall look. As the older leaves die back their leaf stems remain attatched to the trunk. The lower trunk becomes swollen with age as the plant becomes taller. The leaves are generally 8' long and 4' wide. Usually several years pass before flowering takes place. The showy flowers occur en masse on a thick, 10' long hanging pendulum. This is a vigourous, fast growing plant and is more tolerant of coolness than most varieties. The large black seeds are the size of a medium sized marble. It does not produce bananas.

If you're still uncertain whether this is the right plant, you can visit the following website which has photos and descriptions of over 30 types of banana plants:

Hope this information is helpful!

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