A noteworthy banana: Musa acuminata

The Musa acuminata is a wild banana species and is one of the two ancestors of virtually all modern commercially cultivated bananas (the other one being Musa balbisiana). The origin of the wild banana and its centre of domestication is thought to be the region that stretches from India to Papua New-Guinea and includes Malaysia and Indonesia.

This large herb can reach a height of some seven meters. The individual flowers are white to yellowish-white in color and will grow upwards and away from the ground. The rather slender fruits are in fact berries (botanically speaking) and their size depends on the number and size of the seeds.
[Image: Kurt Stueber]
It was first cultivated by humans some 8000 years ago. Although it is widely assumed that the modern seedless banana is a hybrid of Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, in reality its ancestry is unclear. Some hypothesize[1] that the evolution under domestication of cultivated banana hybrids is more likely to have passed through an intermediate hybrid.

The Musa acuminata likes the more humid conditions of the tropical forests, while the Musa balbisiana has evolved to be more comfortable with somewhat drier conditions.
[Image: foragersyear.wordpress.com]
The wild banana species is considered light demanding and intolerant of competition, opportunistically exploiting breaks in the rain forest, such as on river margins[2]. Various parts of the plant, including the male bud, are still widely used as food in several Asian cuisines. That may lead to the suggestion that wild bananas were at first used for other parts and that occasionally finding seedless hybrids may be considered a lucky break.

[1] De Langhe et al: Did backcrossing contribute to the origin of hybrid edible bananas? in Annals of Botany - 2010
[2] Gowen (Editor): Bananas and Plantains - 1995

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