Say “Hello” To New Species Of Banana Called “Musa nanensis”

banana

Researchers have discovered a new species of banana called Musa nanensis, which also belongs to the Musa genus. It shares a place in the family Musaceae with 70+ other species of bananas. Its scientific name honors the province of Nan, where the type specimen was collected.

The role of the wild banana (Musa acuminata) on wildlife diversity in mixed deciduous forest was studied at the Mae Klong Watershed Research Station, Kanchanaburi Province, Thailand, from 2003-2004.

Thirty wild banana specimens were selected, and their features were recorded every 2 weeks. The number of seeds and seed size of ripened fruit samples were counted and measured. The survival of wild banana seedlings was also recorded every month.

Wildlife diversity and its associations to wild-banana-phenomena were investigated by cameras and live traps. The remote automatic camera traps, 8 per census, were set up for 2 nights and 3 days in places that wild bananas had flowered or fruited every month. Live-traps were also used at the same time with baited banana fruit inside, and 8 traps were placed near the banana clumps in every census.

The end results showed that there was a greater seedling survival rate of wild bananas from clones than from seeds! The establishment of wild banana was done directly from colonized clumps, which showed high efficiency by rapidly occupying the complete disturbed area.

Wild bananas flowered and fruited at different times among the culms throughout the year, and facilitated good conditions for both forest rebirth, and food resources to wildlife.

The results on wildlife diversity showed that 17 species from 16 genera came to utilize the inflorescences, fruits and seeds of wild banana. The roles of wildlife on wild banana could be classified as:

1) Pollinator by the greater short-nosed fruit bat (Cynopterus sphinx), the streaked spiderhunter (Arachnothera magna) and the little spiderhunter (A. longirostra),

2) Seed predator by Pallas’s squirrel (Callosciurus erythraeus), the gray-bellied squirrel (C. caniceps), the Indochinese ground squirrel (Menetes berdmorei, Rattus spp., Mus sp.) and the common tree shrew (Tupaia glis), and

3) Seed disperser by the Asian palm civet (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus).

Thus, considering the important role of the wild banana in mixed deciduous forest, it could be classified as a “keystone species”, which promotes forest regeneration and provides food resources to wildlife, especially during the arid (dry) season.

A fun fact: Each banana you have ever eaten — most likely a Cavendish one — is genetically identical to its entire family of sister bananas!

Why is this so?

Wild bananas contain big, hard seeds and very little flesh, making them almost inedible. Since it’s domestication over 7,000 years ago, farmers have been hard at work selectively breeding the fruit to have really tiny, non-fertile seeds.

Tasty, but not very practical — the lack of seeds means that growers must rely on “pups,” cuttings of an existent banana plant, to propagate crops. So basically, each one of the long yellow fruit you have purchased in a grocery shop is thus genetically identical to all other bananas in the building.

One of the biggest concerns with having a whole species of clone organisms is that because they are genetically identical, they could all be wiped out by a single disease. Such was the case with the Cavendish’s predecessor, the Gros Michel, that was wiped out by the fungus fusarium oxysporum.

However, wild species of banana do have seeds. The random combinations of maternal and paternal genes that sexual reproduction creates helps species adapt to pathogens. In case our banana crops ever suffer from an event as horrible as the Panama disease again, their wild relatives might be our only sporting chance to save the banana split the way we enjoy it today!

banana

It is a top banana!

As per Dr. Sasivimon Swangpol of Mahidol University and her colleagues, nanensis is a perennial herb, 1.5 – 3 m (4.9 – 9.8 feet) in height. Its flowering time is year around, and its fruits are 7 cm (2.8 inches) long and 1.5 cm (0.6 inches) wide.

They look straight- to-curved, angular with prominent ridges at maturity. Each bunch has 3-10 hands and each hand contains 4-10 bananas. Seeds are irregular, sharp angular, with dimensions 3-5 mm by 2-5 mm by 2-3 mm.

The fruits and hands of Musa bananas

Dr. Swangpol and co-authors wrote in a paper in the journal Systematic Botany that the new taxon possesses generally thicker leaves than other Musa species. In addition, this banana has various epidermal cell shapes with relatively longer hypodermal cells on its adaxial side as compared to corresponding epidermal cells.

Banana facts to know

  • There are about 1,000 types of banana: sweet, savoury, round, bent, straight, green, yellow, pink, silvery, even spotted and striped.
  • Most of the world’s edible bananas are derived from Musa acuminata or naturally occuring hybrids between Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana.
  • Hundreds of different banana and plantain cultivars are grown for domestic consumption, but Cavendis’ bananas dominate the world export trade and are the dessert banana we buy in UK supermarkets.
  • Although there is a rich diversity of plantains and East African Highland bananas, they are genetically very similar. This means all varieties tend to be susceptible to the same pests and diseases, such as the infamous Panama disease.
  • Each plant just produces one stem of bananas, holding up to 200 bananas.
  • The name ‘banana’ comes from an African dialect, and was carried to the New World by Portuguese slave traders. It actually comes from the Arabic word banan meaning finger.
  • India is the world’s biggest producer of bananas.

Where the banana usually grows?

The banana is botanically a berry, produced by several kinds of large herbaceous flowering plants in the genus Musa. In some countries, bananas used for cooking may be called plantains.

This fruit with extraordinary health benefits is native to South East Asia. However, edible banana fruits are today cultivated around the tropics. They thrive in shaded and moist ravines, marshlands, semi-marshlands, and slopes from near sea level to 1,200m altitude.

Common uses and health benefits of the banana fruit

Bananas are well-eaten all over the world, and are one of the top selling items in markets. Most bananas are consumed where they are grown – in the tropics – where they are a vital staple crop providing food from fruit, bud and leaf as well as shade, shelter, building materials, wrappings for food and other goods, even shrouds. They form part of rituals centered on fertility, and women’s guardianship of life. In India, they are planted in sacred precincts.  

Bananas are a very good source of vitamin B6, and a good source of vitamin C, manganese, potassium, dietary fiber, biotin, and copper. This yummy food is also very low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Athletics people (like my friends from Bowmansville) love bananas for their energy-replenishing properties, and because of the healthy amount of potassium that helps them avoid muscle cramps after workouts.

Banana-conservation story

The Future Harvest Centre, International Network for the Improvement of Banana and Plantain (INIBAP), manages the largest genebank of banana tissue culture in the world.

The vast collection basically is not owned by anyone, but it is held ‘in trust’ for the public good and its accessions are freely available. In recent years, great advances have been made in techniques of deep freezing (or cryopreserving) the plant material. INIBAP is now engaged in efforts to cryopreserve the entire banana collection of over 1,000 accessions in order to improve its long-term maintenance.

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