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Musa is one of three genera in the family Musaceae; it includes the bananas and plantains. There are over 50 species of Musa with a broad variety of uses. The word banana came via Portuguese or Spanish from a West African language (possibly Wolof) circa 1597 and is now in most Western languages, whereas the scientific name for the genus is similar to the Arabic and Persian names for just the fruit.

Wild Musa species

The genus Musa was traditionally classified into five sections (Ingentimusa, Australimusa, Callimusa, Musa, and Rhodochlamys) but these have recently (2002) been reduced to three(Ingentimusa, Callimusa, and Musa). Previously, the 2n = 20 chromosome species were separated into the sections Australimusa and Callimusa and the 2n = 22 chromosome species were separated into the sections Musa and Rhodochlamys. Recently, studies by Carol Wong and colleagues in Singapore have revealed that genetic differences between each section in the same chromosome group are smaller than those within each section. This means that the traditional separation of the sections can no longer be substantiated. Wong's studies do, however, maintain the separation between the 20 and 22 chromosome species. At present the 14 chromosome Ingentimusa section remains distinct.

Edible bananas

A number of distinct groups of edible bananas have been developed from species of Musa. By far the largest and now the most widely distributed group is derived from Musa acuminata (mainly) and Musa balbisiana either alone or in various hybrid combinations. The next but much smaller group is derived from members of section Callimusa (previously classified as Australimusa) and is restricted in importance to Polynesia. Of even more restricted importance are small groups of hybrids in Papua New Guinea; a section Musa group to which Musa schizocarpa has also contributed and a group of section Musa x section Callimusa hybrids.

From the time of Linnaeus until the 1940's, different types of edible bananas and plantains were given Linnaean binomial names, such as Musa cavendishii as if they were species. In fact, edible bananas have an extremely complicated origin involving hybridization, mutation, and finally selection by humans. The giving of species names to what are actually very complex hybrids led to endless confusion in banana botany. In the 1940s and 1950s, it became clear that the cultivated bananas and plantains could not usefully be assigned Linnean binomials, but are better given cultivar names. An alternate genome-based system for the nomenclature of the section Musa bananas was devised.

As mentioned above, the main group of edible bananas are derived from Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. As an example of the application of the genome based nomenclature system, the plant previously known by the "species" name Musa cavendishii became Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish'. The "new" name shows clearly that 'Dwarf Cavendish' is a triploid, with three sets of chromosomes, all derived from Musa acuminata designated by the letter "A". When Musa balbisiana is involved the letter "B" is used to denote its genome. Thus the cultivar 'Rajapuri' is correctly written as Musa (AAB group) 'Rajapuri'. 'Rajapuri' is also a triploid with two sets of chromosomes from Musa acuminata and one from Musa balbisiana. In the edible bananas genome combinations such as AA, BB, ABB, BBB and even AAAB can be found.

No such nomenclature system has been developed for the next group of edible bananas derived from section Callimusa. However, this group is known generally as the "Fe'i" or "Fehi" bananas and there are numerous cultivars of this group in the South Pacific region. They are very distinctive plants with upright fruit bunches and feature in three of Paul Gauguin's paintings. The flesh can be cooked before eating, is bright orange (with a high level of beta-carotene). The Fe'i bananas are no longer very important for food, as imported foods have grown in popularity, although some have ritual significance. Investigations are underway to use the Fe'i karat in prevention of childhood blindness in Pohnpei. It is probable that the Fe'i bananas derive mainly from Musa maclayi although their origins are not as well understood as the section Musa bananas. Cultivars can be formally named as in this example, Musa (Fe'i group) 'Utafun'.

Species List

Section Ingentimusa

from Papua New Guinea

   Musa ingens

Section Callimusa

(incorporating Australimusa)

   Musa alinsanaya
   Musa beccarii [see note]
   Musa boman
   Musa borneënsis
   Musa bukensis
   Musa campestris
   Musa coccinea [see note]
   Musa exotica [see note]
   Musa fitzalanii [extinct]
   Musa flavida
   Musa gracilis
   Musa hirta [see note]
   Musa insularimontana [see note]
   Musa jackeyi
   Musa johnsii
   Musa lawitiensis
   Musa lolodensis
   Musa maclayi
   Musa monticola
   Musa muluensis
   Musa paracoccinea
   Musa peekelii
   Musa pigmaea [see note]
   Musa salaccensis
   Musa splendida [see note]
   Musa suratii [see note]
   Musa textilis (see also Abacá)
   Musa tuberculata
   Musa violascens

Section Musa

(incorporating Rhodochlamys)

   Musa acuminata
   Musa angcorensis [see note]
   Musa aurantiaca
   Musa balbisiana
   Musa banksii [see note]
   Musa basjoo [see note]
   Musa cheesmanii
   Musa flaviflora [see note]
   Musa griersonii
   Musa itinerans
   Musa laterita
   Musa mannii
   Musa nagensium
   Musa ochracea
   Musa ornata [see note]
   Musa rubra
   Musa sanguinea
   Musa schizocarpa
   Musa siamea [see note]
   Musa sikkimensis
   Musa thomsonii [see note]
   Musa velutina [see note]
   Musa sp. 'Burmese Blue' [see note]
   Musa sp. 'VN1-054' [see note]


   Musa angcorensis Gagnep. is poorly known and may not be a good species. It was placed very tentatively in section Callimusa but, if it exists at all, it is more likely to be section Musa.
   Musa banksii F. Muell. is generally considered to be a distinct species rather than a form of Musa acuminata.
   Musa beccarii Simmonds is reported as having a chromosome number of x (= 1n) = 9 and 10, the latter due to multivalent formation during meiosis. Although genetically it nestles comfortably within section Callimusa the chromosome number needs clarification.
   Musa basjoo is the most cold hardy species of Musa, growing and fruiting successfully in outdoor cultivation in the British Isles and British Columbia.
   Musa coccinea Andrews has been confirmed as the correct name for the plant often called Musa uranoscopos Lour. in the literature.
   Musa exotica Valmayor is newly described from Vietnam where it is known as Chuoi Rung Hoa Do. It has the correct chromosome number for section Callimusa.
   Musa flaviflora Simmonds (one of the "parents" of Musa ornata) should perhaps be treated as a sub-species of Musa acuminata Colla.
   Musa hirta Becc. is a good species although poorly known and its affinities with Musa beccarii suggest it belongs with that species in section Callimusa.
   Musa insularimontana Hayata endemic to a single island off Taiwan is poorly known. It is close to Musa textilis and is perhaps vulnerable to reduction.
   Musa ornata Roxb. seems to be a "secondary species", a relic of a hybrid swarm between Musa flaviflora and Musa velutina.
   Musa pigmaea Hotta (nomen nudum as yet) is a good species although enigmatic. Its reported affinity with Musa beccarii suggests it belongs with that species in section Callimusa.
   Musa siamea (comb. nov) is placed here somewhat prematurely but based on recent genetic evidence is likely to be elevated from Musa acuminata subsp. siamea.
   Musa splendida A. Chev. is poorly known and may not be a good species. A plant known as Chuoi gai, a name given by Chevalier for Musa splendida, seems identical with Musa paracoccinea but differs from Chevalier's description of Musa splendida.
   Musa thomsonii Noltie is a good species although very poorly known. However, seed has just become available commercially.
   Musa velutina Wendl. & Drude may be the same as Musa dasycarpa Kurz in which case the latter would have priority.
   Musa sp. 'Burmese Blue' is placed here deliberately provocatively. It has been reported as being Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana but seems different from both.
   Musa sp. 'VN1-054' is placed here rather speculatively. Known in Vietnam as Chuoi Rung Hoa Soan, it has been confused with Musa itinerans although differing in its remarkable imbricate male bud. That it is a hitherto unknown species is reported here for the first time.


Many. See List of Musa Cultivars for a complete list.