The plant family Musaceae is well known for economically important bananas and plantains. Bananas are the most popular fruit in the world, which are grown in more than 150 countries and plays a major role in terms of food security. However, there are many other types of bananas known for their ornamental flowers or foliage but not their fruit. These ornamental types are easy to grow and flower and add lush tropical look to any garden.
South East Asia and Africa are considered as a primary and secondary centers of diversity (Simmonds, 1962, 1966) for banana. This monocotyledonous herbaceous perennial belongs to order Zingiberales and family Musaceae; Musa along with Musella and Ensete are the three genera of the family Musaceae. Each genera is further divided into sections based on basic chromosome number, inflorescence orientation and arrangement of the flowers.
Classification pattern of Family "Musaceae"
Uses/ Economic interest
This is the largest of the five sections with 13-15 species. It is the most diversified, most ancient and widely distributed section
Fiber producing species M. textilis Nees (Abaca) and edible Fe’i bananas of the Pacific belong to this section
This section contain species of ornamental interest only and do not produce edible fruits
Section Rhodochlamys is closely related to Eumusa based on genetic affinity (Shepherd 1999). Comprises several valuable ornamental bananas of commercial importance
Under defined species are put together in this group. Largest member of Musaceae family Musa ingens Simmonds and M. boman added to this
Musella is the most fascinating and unique member of the family and this genus comprising two species Musella lasiocarpa and M. splendida.
The genus Ensete contains as many as nine species. Among the species in this genera Ensete glaucum, Ensete superbum, Ensete ventricosum and its sub species like E. ventricosum Maurrelli and their dwarf types are suitable for ornamental gardening
The banana plant (Musa, Musella, and Ensete) is a herbaceous perennial. The tree "trunk" is called a pseudostem because it does not lignify or undergo secondary growth. The pseudostem is a cylinder of tightly bound leaf petioles that arise directly from an underground stem, or rhizome. The pseudostem color may be green, red, or purple/black and can contribute to the ornamental quality of the plant. The pseudostem of Musella is swollen at the base whereas the pseudostems of Musa and Ensete tend to be the same width over their entire length. Each pseudostem will produce a single terminal inflorescence which hangs down beneath the leaf canopy on a long flower stalk in Musa and Ensete, but faces upward on a short flower stalk in Musella.
Bananas grow from underground storage organs called rhizomes. Musa and Musella, form offsets freely from the rhizome (suckers) but Ensete almost never forms any, the main pseudostem of bananas is monocarpic (it dies after flowering) after which the next oldest sucker grows to replace it. As a result, bananas tend to move around in the garden a few feet over the course of several years. With most bananas, many pseudostems will grow at the same time and form a colony covering a small area. Since Ensete plants do not sucker it dies after flowering.
The leaves are the main ornamental feature of the banana plant and impart a bold tropical look to the garden. The smooth, waxy leaves are generally quite large, reaching up to 6" wide by 2' long on dwarf plants, and up to 2' wide by 9' long on large ones. The leaves are normally dark green color, but variegation is quite common. Variegation appears as white, red or purple/maroon splotches or sectors on the leaf blade. The leaf midrib may have a contrasting color, which is usually red contrasting with the green leaf. Often, the color of the reverse side of the leaf contrasts with the front side and on windy days viewers are treated to flashes of color.
Banana flowers are very exotic looking. In temperate gardens some ornamental bananas may not flower because the season is too short. Each species has a set number of months that the pseudostem must grow in order to flower. Musa velutina, the pink velvet banana, is the only species that can die to the ground in winter and flower and fruit the following season, requiring only 20 weeks to complete its life cycle. Musella lasiocarpa takes several seasons to produce a pseudostem large enough to flower, but when it does, the inflorescence lasts several months. Other bananas must retain a pseudostem for more than one growing season in order to flower and produce fruit. Some species like Musa basjoo pseudostems will remain viable at 150 F and subsequently flowers in the following season.
Technically, the "flowers" are inflorescences (clusters of flowers on a single structure), and a single inflorescence forms on a spike at the top of the plant. Musa and Ensete flower stalks are long and hang down beneath the leaf canopy, but Musella inflorescences are borne on short stalks and face upward. Bananas generally will not flower until there are 9-12 leaves on the pseudostem. The individual florets are slim and tubular and are subtended by very large, brightly-colored bracts that may be red, purple, orange, or yellow. The inflorescence starts off as a large purple tapered bud. The bud elongates as it opens up, revealing bracts which surround whorls of florets. Banana plants are monoecious meaning separate male and female flowers are produced on the same inflorescence. The female florets are grouped together in 5 to 15 rows at the basal end of the inflorescence, followed by a region of hermaphrodite or neuter flowers. Finally, there is a zone of male flowers near the tip of the inflorescence. The flowers open sequentially from the basal end to the apical end. The male flowers are shed a few days after they open, leaving the apical tip of the flower stalk bare, except for the growing point. The female flowers grow into bunches of bananas.
This plant can be propagated through suckers or corms and seeds. Sword-suckers with a well-developed rhizome, conical in shape with lanceolate leaves and actively growing central buds, weighing 500-750g, 2-4 months age plants are generally used. Cut rhizomes called bits and peepers are also used successfully. Some genera like Ensete pare ropagated by seeds. Some of the seeds germinate readily after harvesting; shows no sign of dormancy and others become dormant after drying. Dormancy can be removed by giving pre-sowing treatments - scarification of seeds with sulphuric acid, chipping of testa, softening testa by soaking, use of alternating temperatures, etc.
Banana propagated through tissue culture is cost effective for the production of disease-free plants. Micro propagation has been preferred over conventional propagation owing to its faster multiplication, uniformity in planting material and disease-free material from transmissible pests and diseases.
Banana is well suited for cultivation from humid subtropical to semi-arid subtropics up to 2500 m above mean sea level (Hill banana, M.sikkimensis, Musell lasiocarpa) with a temperature of 15-350C and rainfall of 500-2000 mm/year. Most of the species are susceptible to low temperature except genera like Musella and some of the Eumusa species like M.sikkimensis, Musa basjoo.
It can be grown in all kinds of soils having good drainage. In sandy soils, plants grow faster compared to vertisol or clay loam. Though soil pH of 6.5-7.5 is optimum, banana can be grown in soils having a pH up to 8.5 with suitable amendments.
The planting site should be chosen for protection from wind and cold weather, if possible. The warmest location in the home landscape is near the south or southeast side of the house.
Pot and Pit methods are generally followed in case of banana. Pits of 60 cm3 size are dug, and filled with a mixture of soil, sand and farmyard manure with a ratio of 1:1:1. Sucker or seedling is planted in the center of pit and the soil around the pit is compacted. Ornamental purpose bananas can be planted as close as 2-3’ apart. Dwarf statured plant species like Musella species and some dwarf types can be grown in containers.
Repotting can be done once in three years by replacing the old soil with the nutritive potting mix. Bananas will grow, fairly slow in the indoor conditions. So care should be taken to provide plenty of light and humidity. Plants can be protected from the extreme temperatures and water logging. In temperate areas, gardeners may also elect to let their plants go dormant by slowly withholding water as the weather cools. Remove the main stem and place the container in a cool dark place till favourable weathers conditions prevails.
Most of the bananas are highly vigorous and not suitable for container gardening. Application of growth retardants significantly reduces the plant height; this effect improves the appearance of banana and increases the use of plant for ornamental gardening. Application of PP333 0.25 mg/plant (Gaspar et al, 1999) at end of hardening stage reduce the plant height two months after application. The incorporation of growth retardants (GR) such as Ancymidol (ANC) or Paclobutrazol (PBZ) in liquid culture media during multiplication stage of bananas decreases the excessive growth of stems and leaves. Soil application of Paclobutrazol also reduces the plant height by 25% without any adverse effect on the flowering.
Sections Callimusa and Rhodochlamys belong to Musa genera contain most of the potential ornamental forms of banana. Some other ornamental species belongs to genera’s Musella and Ensete are also briefly described here.
Most of the species in this section are best known for their brightly colour bracts on erect inflorescence, this feature makes them popular as ornamental plants. Section Rhodochlamys is the only section in Musa adapted to withstand the seasonal droughts. The natural habitat of Rhodochlamys species is Northeast India, Bangladesh, Myanmar and Northern Thailand, except for Musa rosea, which is native to Cambodia and southern Vietnam. Musa sanguinea is also known to occur in Yunnan, China. Among the nine identified species in this section seven species are well characterized. While remaining two, M. Siamensis and M. sanguinea are having less definite status. Various Rhodochlamys species found that they were suitable for indoor and greenhouse culture, and also can be grown outdoors during its growing season.
Important ornamental species of section “Rhodochlamys”
‘Pink velvet banana’ found growing wild in the sub-tropical evergreen forests of Arunachal Pradesh and Assam in India. The name “velutina” was derived from the hairy, velvety nature of the beautiful pink skinned fruits. On maturity the fruit peel splits and separates into irregular strips from apex to base, revealing a central mass of white flesh, filled with black seeds. Musa velutina is one of only four known Musa species in which the fruit splits (or dehisces or is schizocarpic) on maturity.
One of the most elegant members of Rhodochlamys with bright orange colour buds. Found mostly in higher altitudes regions of Arunachal Pradesh in India. Plant grows in clumps of 10-12 with 0.8-1 m height. Under undisturbed conditions it flowers freely without following the seasonal behaviour. Four to five buds at one place give a false appearance of forest flame.
This species is native to North-East India, Myanmar and Northern Thailand. Its cultivation is common as an ornamental plant worldwide. The name “laterita” derives from the colour of its bracts, which resemble the brick-red tropical soil known as “laterite”.
True form of this species only found in India. During 19th century it reached to central and south America where it became naturalized. This species itself is not an especially variable plant in itself but it hybridizes freely with other species. As a result there are number of hybrids derived from this species in the tropical regions with lots of variability
Discovered from eastern Thailand in 2002 and soon after that, introduced into western horticulture markets under the commercial name ‘Thai Gold’ by Thai nursery people. This species is called ChekMeas in Cambodia and has been cultivated for a long time over there as ornamental for its bright yellow compact inflorescence. It is closely related to Musa rosea and having similar growinghabits with traveling rhizomes.
Originates in Cambodia. In case of growth habit this species resembles Musa coccinea. The inflorescence is short and erect with red bracts. This species has been recently reclassified and synonymised with Musa ancgorensis (Hakkinen, 2006).
Is native of Assam in India. Also called as ‘Assam Dwarf Banana’ or ‘Indian Dwarf Banana’. The slender pseudo stems are about 60-80 cm in height with profuse suckering habit. The leaves are green, with a narrow purple boarder. Inflorescence is studded with large pale purplish bracts and shorter yellow male flowers. This species is having wide use in the ornamental gardening because of its natural dwarf nature with elegant leaves and flowers along with the cold hardiness nature.
This species is known as ‘Red dwarf banana.’ This beautiful dwarf species is native to China, India, Burma and Thailand with wide leaves, reddish stems and stunning red flowers. It is closely related to Musa laterita and easily grown in tropical and warm temperate regions.
Section Callimusa (x = 10, 2n=20)
Plant bears upright flower stalk with variously coloured buds, flowers along with the seeded fruit. Some of the species are described here which are having ornamental value.
Important ornamental species of section “Callimusa”
M. coccinea Andrews
It is also called as scarlet banana or red ornamental banana or red tourch banana. Mainly exploited for its ornamental beauty. Plant bears inflorescence with more rounded and clustered bracts of bright orange to scarlet colour. Plants are dwarf less than 4 feet in height with profuse suckers. This species is highly suitable for container gardening as well as for screening purpose as backdrop planting in the gardens.
M. beccarii Simmonds
A beautiful small banana from Borneo. Plant begins to flower when it is 1 to 1.5 m height.This species bears a narrow, erect, elliptical, bright scarlet bud, with green-tipped bracts
This species is called as candy cane banana. Native of Borneo and Malayan regions. This species bears large purple flowers followed by white coloured fruits which are beautifully striped with pink and purple strains looks like a candy cane adds exotic look to the gardens. Slender Pseudo stem with 1.5-2 m height with profuse suckering habit.
Musa violascens Ridley
A fairly short ornamental species with mauve coloured bud bracts often confused with the species Musa ornate distributed in Malayan regions. Having slender pseudostem with 1-2m height
Genera Ensete (2n=18, x=9) species belongs to this genus and are found throughout Africa and southern Asia. It contains as many as nine species. Among the species in these genera ar - Ensete glaucum, Ensete superbum (Rock banana), Ensete perrieri, Ensete ventricosum and its sub species like E. ventricosum Maurrelli (Abyssinian banana) and their dwarf types are suitable for home gardening.
Genera-Musella (2n=18, x=9) is the most fascinating unique member of the family. This genus comprising of two species (Musella lasiocarpa, M. splendida) is native to South East Asia including southwest china, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar.
Somaclonal variations: Mass propagation of bananas through in vitro techniques can lead to a high percentage of non-true type plants. The percentage of Somaclonal variants in banana ranges from 5 to 50% or even higher in some cases. Variation has been found for plant height, leaf shape and colour, pseudostem morphology and colour, reproductive organs morphology and sucker emission rate. Some of these Somaclonal variants such as extra-dwarf or variegated types, might be interesting for their use in landscaping or for indoor pot cultivation.
Mutation Breeding: suitable variations for some of the characters can be created by using chemical as well as physical mutagens in case of banana. Suitable variants for disease resistance, dwarf stature were created in different edible varieties of banana. Same methods can be useful for creation of ornamental types too.
Development of ornamental hybrids: most of the edible and ornamental types of the bananas are evolved as a result of natural hybridization which occurred in their natural growing areas. Still enormous scope is there for the improvement of ornamental, edible or dual type cultivars by artificial hybridization techniques.
In banana, major diseases are caused by fungi, bacteria as well as virus. Some major diseases are Fusarium wilt, sigatoka leaf spot, bacterial wilt, bunchy top and mosaic virus. Banana weevil, burrowing nematode (Radophilus similes) and root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne spp) are some of the major pests cause severe damage to these plantations.
Author: Aparna V, ICAR-CPCRI, Kasaragod, Kerala