What the banana is?

Banana is the common name for herbaceous plants of the genus Musa and for the fruit they produce. Bananas come in a variety of sizes and colors when ripe, including yellow, purple, and red.

Almost all modern edible parthenocarpic bananas come from the two wild species – Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. The scientific names of bananas are Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana or hybrids Musa acuminata × balbisiana, depending on their genomic constitution. The old scientific names Musa sapientum and Musa paradisiaca are no longer used.

Banana is also used to describe Enset and Fe’i bananas, neither of which belong to the aforementioned species. Enset bananas belong to the genus Ensete while the taxonomy of  Fe’i-type cultivars is uncertain.

In popular culture and commerce, “banana” usually refers to soft, sweet “dessert” bananas. By contrast, Musa cultivars with firmer, starchier fruit are called plantains or “cooking bananas”. The distinction is purely arbitrary and the terms ‘plantain’ and ‘banana’ are sometimes interchangeable depending on their usage.

They are native to tropical South and Southeast Asia, and are likely to have been first domesticated in Papua New Guinea. Today, they are cultivated throughout the tropics.They are grown in at least 107 countries,primarily for their fruit, and to a lesser extent to make fiber, banana wine and as ornamental plants.


The banana plant is the largest herbaceous flowering plant. The plants are normally tall and fairly sturdy and are often mistaken for trees, but their main or upright stem is actually a pseudostem that grows 6 to 7.6 metres (20 to 24.9 ft) tall, growing from a corm. Each pseudostem can produce a single bunch of bananas. After fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but offshoots may develop from the base of the plant. Many varieties of bananas are perennial. Leaves are spirally arranged and may grow 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) long and 60 cm (2.0 ft) wide. They are easily torn by the wind, resulting in the familiar frond look.

Each pseudostem normally produces a single inflorescence, also known as the banana heart. (More are sometimes produced; an exceptional plant in the Philippines produced five.) The inflorescence contains many bracts (sometimes incorrectly called petals) between rows of flowers. The female flowers (which can develop into fruit) appear in rows further up the stem from the rows of male flowers. The ovary is inferior, meaning that the tiny petals and other flower parts appear at the tip of the ovary.

The banana fruits develop from the banana heart, in a large hanging cluster, made up of tiers (called hands), with up to 20 fruit to a tier. The hanging cluster is known as a bunch, comprising 3–20 tiers, or commercially as a “banana stem”, and can weigh from 30–50 kilograms (66–110 lb). In common usage, bunch applies to part of a tier containing 3–10 adjacent fruits.

Individual banana fruits (commonly known as a banana or ‘finger’) average 125 grams (0.28 lb), of which approximately 75% is water and 25% dry matter. There is a protective outer layer (a peel or skin) with numerous long, thin strings (the phloem bundles), which run lengthwise between the skin and the edible inner portion. The inner part of the common yellow dessert variety splits easily lengthwise into three sections that correspond to the inner portions of the three carpels.

The fruit has been described as a “leathery berry”. In cultivated varieties, the seeds are diminished nearly to non-existence; their remnants are tiny black specks in the interior of the fruit.

Bananas are naturally slightly radioactive,[9][10] more so than most other fruits, because of their high potassium content, and the small amounts of the isotope potassium-40 found in naturally occurring potassium. Proponents of nuclear power sometimes refer to the banana equivalent dose of radiation to support their arguments.


The genus Musa is in the family Musaceae. The APG II system, of 2003 (unchanged from 1998), assigns Musaceae to the order Zingiberales in the clade commelinids in the monocotyledonous flowering plants. Some sources assert that the banana’s genus, Musa, is named for Antonio Musa, physician to the Emperor Augustus.  Others say that Linnaeus, who named the genus in 1750, simply adapted an Arabic word for banana, mauz. The word banana itself might have come from the Arabic banan, which means “finger”, or perhaps from Wolof banaana.  The genus contains many species; several produce edible fruit, while others are cultivated as ornamentals.
Banana classification has long been a problematic issue for taxonomists due to the way Linnaeus originally classified bananas as two species based only on their methods of consumption, Musa sapientum for dessert bananas and Musa paradisiaca for plantains. However, this simplistic classification has proved to be inadequate to address the sheer number of cultivars (many of them synonymous) existing in its primary center of diversity, Southeast Asia.
Ernest Cheesman first discovered that Musa sapientum and Musa paradisiaca, described by Linnaeus, were actually cultivars and descendants of two wild and seedy species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, both first described by Luigi Aloysius Colla. He recommended their abolition in favor of reclassifying bananas according to three morphologically distinct cultivars – those primarily exhibiting the botanical characteristics of Musa balbisiana, those primarily exhibiting the botanical characteristics of Musa acuminata, and those with characteristics that are the combination of the two.

Researchers Norman Simmonds and Ken Shepherd proposed the genome-based nomenclature system in 1955. This system eliminated almost all the difficulties and inconsistencies of the nomenclature system of bananas based on Musa sapientum and Musa paradisiaca. Despite this, Musa paradisiaca is still recognized by some authorities today, leading to confusion.
Generally, modern classifications of banana cultivars follow Simmonds’ and Shepherd’s system. The accepted names for bananas are Musa acuminata, Musa balbisiana or Musa acuminata × balbisiana, depending on their genetic ancestry

Synonyms include:

  1. Musa × sapientum L.
  2. Musa paradisiaca L.
  3. Musa × paradisiaca L.
  4. Musa paradisiaca L. subsp. Musa sapientum J. G. Baker
  5. Musa rosacea N. J. von Jacquin
  6. Musa violacea J. G. Baker
  7. Musa cliffortiana L.
  8. Musa dacca P. F. Horaninow
  9. Musa rosacea N. J. von Jacquin
  10. Musa × paradisiaca L. subsp. sapientum (L.) C. E. O. Kuntze
  11. Musa × paradisiaca var. dacca (P. F. Horaninow) J. G. Baker ex K. M. Schumann

For the banana cultivar previously referred to as Musa sapientum, see Latundan Banana.[19] For bananas and plantains previously referred to as Musa paradisiaca, see Plantain. For a list of the cultivars classified under the new system see Banana cultivar groups.

Comparison between the two wild banana ancestorsm in the Simmonds and Shepherd table (1955)


Musa acuminata

Musa balbisiana

Color of pseudostem

Black or grey-brown spots

Unmarked or slightly marked

Petiole canal

Erect edge, with scarred inferior leaves, not against the pseudostem

Closed edge, without leaves, against the pseudostem


Covered with fine hair






Two regular rows in the locule

Four irregular rows in the locule

Elbow of the bract

Tall (< 0.28)

Short (> 0.30)

Bend of the bract

The bract wraps behind the opening

The bract raises without bending behind the opening

Form of the bract

Lance- or egg-shaped, tapering markedly after the bend

Broadly egg-shaped

Peak of the bract



Color of the bract

Dark red or yellow on the outside, opaque purple or yellow on the inside

Brown-purple on the outside, crimson on the inside


The inside of the bract is more bright toward the base

The inside of the bract is uniform

Scarification of the bract


Not prominent

Free tepal of the male flower

Corrugated under the point

Rarely corrugated

Color of the male flower

White or cream


Color of the markings

Orange or bright yellow

Cream, yellow, or pale pink