Fine Art

Ensete ventricosum

Ensete ventricosum, Photo: Michael Lahanas

Classification System: APG IV

Superregnum: Eukaryota
Regnum: Plantae
Cladus: Angiosperms
Cladus: Monocots
Cladus: Commelinids
Ordo: Zingiberales

Familia: Musaceae
Genus: Ensete
Species: Ensete ventricosum

Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 1947: 101. (1948)

Musa ventricosa Welw., Ann. Cons. Ultramar. (Portugal), Parte Não Off. ser. 1, 55:587. 1859 ("1858").
Musa ensete J.F.Gmel., Syst. Nat. ed. 13[bis]: 567 (1791).
Mnasium theophrasti Pritz., Icon. Bot. Index: 719 (1855), nom. nud.
Ensete edule Bruce ex Horan., Prodr. Monogr. Scitam.: 40 (1862).
Musa africana W.Bull, Nursery Cat. (William Bull) 59: 6 (1871), nom. superfl.
Musa proboscidea Oliv., Hooker's Icon. Pl. 18: t. 1777 (1888).
Musa buchananii Baker, Ann. Bot. (Oxford) 7: 207 (1893).
Musa schweinfurthii K.Schum. & Warb. in H.G.A.Engler (ed.), Pflanzenr., IV, 45: 14 (1900).
Musa arnoldiana De Wild., Bull. Soc. Étude Colon. Bruxelles 8: 339 (1901).
Musa holstii K.Schum., Bot. Jahrb. Syst. 34: 121 (1904).
Musa ulugurensis Warb. & Moritz, Tropenpflanzer 8: 116 (1904).
Musa fecunda Stapf, J. Linn. Soc., Bot. 37: 528 (1906).
Musa laurentii De Wild., Miss. Ém. Laurent 1: 371 (1907).
Musa bagshawei Rendle & Greves, J. Bot. 48: 169 (1910).
Musa davyae Stapf, Bull. Misc. Inform. Kew 1913: 102 (1913).
Musa ruandensis De Wild., Bull. Jard. Bot. État Bruxelles 8: 111 (1923).
Musa rubronervata De Wild., Bull. Jard. Bot. État Bruxelles 8: 112 (1923).
Musa ensete var. montbeliardii Bois, Bull. Mus. Natl. Hist. Nat., sér. 2, 2: 688 (1931).
Musa martretiana A.Chev., Rev. Bot. Appl. Agric. Trop. 14: 507 (1934).
Musa kaguna Chiov., Racc. Bot.: 119 (1935).
Ensete arnoldianum (De Wild.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete bagshawei (Rendle & Greves) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete buchananii (Baker) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 102 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete davyae (Stapf) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 104 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete fecundum (Stapf) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete holstii (K.Schum.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete laurentii (De Wild.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete proboscideum (Oliv.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 102 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete ruandense (De Wild.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 104 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete rubronervatum (De Wild.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 104 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete schweinfurthii (K.Schum. & Warb.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete ulugurense (Warb. & Moritz) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 103 (1947 publ. 1948).
Ensete ventricosum var. montbeliardii (Bois) Cufod., Bull. Jard. Bot. Natl. Belg. 42(3, Suppl.): 1593 (1972).


Cheeseman, E.E. 1948. Kew Bulletin 2(2): 101.
Govaerts, R. et al. 2021. Ensete ventricosum in World Checklist of Selected Plant Families. The Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Published on the internet. Accessed: 2021 Mar. 7. Reference page.
International Plant Names Index. Mar. 7. Ensete ventricosum. Published online. Accessed: {{{3}}} Mar. 7.
USDA, ARS, Germplasm Resources Information Network. Ensete ventricosum in the Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN), U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service. Accessed: 11 February 2009.

Vernacular names
English: Ethiopian Banana
suomi: Etiopianbanaani

Ensete ventricosum, commonly known as enset or ensete, Ethiopian banana, Abyssinian banana,[3] pseudo-banana and false banana, is an herbaceous species of flowering plant in the banana family Musaceae. The domesticated form of the plant is cultivated only in Ethiopia, where it provides the staple food for approximately 20 million people.[4][5] The name Ensete ventricosum was first published in the Kew Bulletin[6] 1947, p. 101. Its synonyms include Musa arnoldiana De Wild., Musa ventricosa Welw. and Musa ensete J. F. Gmelin.[7] In its wild form, it is native to the eastern edge of the Great African Plateau, extending northwards from South Africa through Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania to Ethiopia, and west to the Congo, being found in high-rainfall forests on mountains, and along forested ravines and streams.[4]


Like bananas, Ensete ventricosum is a large non-woody plant—a gigantic monocarpic evergreen perennial herb (not a tree)[8]—up to 6 m (20 ft) tall. It has a stout pseudostem of tightly overlapping leaf bases, and large banana-like leaf blades of up to 5 m (16 ft) tall by 1 m (3 ft 3 in) wide, with a salmon-pink midrib. The flowers, which only occur once from the centre of the plant at the end of that plant's life, are in massive pendant thyrses covered by large pink bracts. The roots are an important foodstuff, but the fruits are inedible (insipid, flavorless)[9] and have hard, black, rounded seeds. After flowering, the plant dies.

The Latin specific epithet ventricosum means “with a swelling on the side, like a belly”.[10]
Use as a foodcrop
A Kambaata woman extracting the edible part of an enset with a traditional tool (SNNPR, Ethiopia)

Enset is a very important local food source especially in Ethiopia. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that "enset provides more amount of foodstuff per unit area than most cereals. It is estimated that 40 to 60 enset plants occupying 250–375 square metres (2,700–4,000 sq ft) can provide enough food for a family of 5 to 6 people."[11]

Enset (E. ventricosum) is Ethiopia's most important root crop, a traditional staple in the densely populated south and southwestern parts of Ethiopia.[12] Its importance to the diet and economy of the Gurage and Sidama peoples was first recorded by Jerónimo Lobo in the seventeenth century.[13] Each plant takes four to five years to mature, at which time a single root will yield about 40 kg (88 lb) of food. Because of the long period of time from planting to harvest, plantings need to be staggered over time, to ensure that there is enset available for harvest in every season. Enset will tolerate drought better than most cereal crops.

Wild enset plants are produced from seeds, while most domesticated plants are propagated from suckers. Up to 400 suckers can be produced from just one mother plant. In 1994 3,000 km2 (1,200 sq mi) of enset were grown in Ethiopia, with a harvest estimated to be almost 10 tonnes per hectare (4.0 long ton/acre; 4.5 short ton/acre). Enset is often intercropped with sorghum, although the practice amongst the Gedeo people is to intercrop it with coffee.[14]

The young and tender tissues in the centre or heart of the plant (the growing point) are cooked and eaten, being tasty and nutritious and very like the core of palms and cycads. In Ethiopia, more than 150,000 hectares (370,000 acres; 580 sq mi) are cultivated for the starchy staple food prepared from the pulverised trunk and inflorescence stalk. Fermenting these pulverised parts results in a food called kocho. Bulla is made from the liquid squeezed out of the mixture and sometimes eaten as a porridge, while the remaining solids are suitable for consumption after a settling period of some days. Mixed kocho and bulla can be kneaded into dough, then flattened and baked over a fire. Kocho is in places regarded as a delicacy, suitable for serving at feasts and ceremonies such as weddings, when wheat flour is added. The fresh corm is cooked like potatoes before eating. Dry kocho and bulla are energy-rich and produce from 14 to 20 kJ/g (3.3 to 4.8 kcal/g).

It is a major crop, although often supplemented with cereal crops.[15] However its value as a famine food has fallen for a number of reasons, as detailed in the April 2003 issue of the UN-OCHA Ethiopia unit's Focus on Ethiopia:

Apart from an enset plant disease epidemic in 1984–85 which wiped out large parts of the plantations and created the green famine, in the past 10 years major factors were recurrent drought and food shortage together with acute land shortage that forced farmers more and more into consumption of immature plants. Hence farmers were overexploiting their Enset reserves thereby causing gradual losses and disappearance of the false banana as an important household food security reserve. Even though not all the plant losses can be attributed to drought and land shortage and hence early consumption of immature crops, estimations go as far as more than 60% of the false banana crop stands have been lost in some areas in SNNPR during the last 10 years. This basically means that a great many people who used to close the food gap with false banana consumption are not able to do so any more, and lacking a viable alternative, have become food insecure and highly vulnerable to climatic and economic disruptions of their agricultural system.[16]

Other uses

The plant is quick-growing and often cultivated as an ornamental plant. In frost-prone areas it requires winter protection under glass.[8] It has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit,[17][18] as has the cultivar 'Maurelii' (Ethiopian black banana)[19]

A good quality fibre, suitable for ropes, twine, baskets, and general weaving, is obtained from the leaves. Dried leaf-sheaths are used as packing material, serving the same function as Western foam plastic and polystyrene. The entire plant but the roots is used to feed livestock.[20][21] Fresh leaves are a common fodder for cattle during the dry season,[22] and many farmers feed their animals with residues of enset harvest or processing.[21]

In 1769, the celebrated Scottish traveller James Bruce first sent a description and quite accurate drawings of a plant common in the marshes around Gondar in Ethiopia, confidently pronounced it to be "no species of Musa" and wrote that its local name was "ensete". In 1853 the British Consul at Mussowah sent some seeds to Kew Gardens, mentioning that their native name was ansett. Kew, quite understandably, did not make the connection, especially as they had never before seen such seeds. However, when the seeds had germinated and the plants had rapidly gained size, their relationship to the true banana became obvious.

Bruce also discussed the plant's place in the mythology of Egypt and pointed out that some Egyptian statue carvings depict the goddess Isis sitting among the leaves of what was thought to be a banana plant, a plant native to Southeast Asia and not known in Ancient Egypt.[23][24]
Pests and diseases

A major issue with the cultivation of enset is its vulnerability to several pests and diseases.

The most common pest that threatens enset is caused by the Cataenococcus enset which is a root mealybug. The Cataenococcus enset feeds on the roots and corm of the enset plant which leads to slower growth and easier uprooting. Even though enset can be infested at all age stages, the highest risk is between the second or fourth growth year.[25] The dispersion of the mealybug occurs through different vectors: First, the larvae can crawl short distances[25] as adults mealybugs tend to move only after being disturbed.[26] Second, mealybugs-ant symbiotic relationships can be linked to enset infestation and protect and even transport the mealybug over short distances. In return, they feed on the mealybug honeydew. Third, flooding events can transport the mealybug over longer distances and reach enset plants. However, the main transport vectors are unclean working tools and the usage of already infected suckers.[25] This means that the best way to get rid of the bug and to limit its propagation is to uproot the plant and burn it.[27][28] In addition, the fields can be kept free of plant growth for a month since the mealybug can only survive up to three weeks without plant material.[25][26]

Other pests include nematodes, spider mites, aphids, mole rats, porcupines and wild pigs. The latter erode the corm and pseudostem.[25] As for the nematodes, there are two predominant species: there are the root lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus goodeyi) and the root-knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.) and their appearance stand in connection with bacterial wilt.[25] Pratylenchus goodeyi create lesions on the corm and roots, which can lead to cavities up to 2 cm (0.79 in) and characteristic purple colouring around the cavities. The nematode infestation leads to the easy uprooting of the affected plants. Crop rotation can counteract high nematode infestations.[29]
Black Sigatoka leaf streak

The enset plant can be subject to multiple diseases that threaten its use in agriculture.[30][28] The most well known of them is the infection by the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris pathovar Musacerum which creates bacterial wilt, also known as borijje and wol’a by the Kore people.[27] The first observation of this disease was reported by Yirgou and Bradbury in 1968.[31] The manifestation of the bacterial wilt is taking place in the apical leaves that will wilt then dry and finally lead to the drying of the whole plant.[27][32] The only way to avoid the spreading of the disease is in uprooting, burning and burying plants as well as in applying strict control of the knives and tools used to harvest and treat the plants.

Other diseases have been observed such as Okka and Woqa which occur respectively in case of severe drought and in situations of too much water in the soil which causes the proliferation of bacteria. These problems can be solved by either watering the field when drought is present or by draining the soil to avoid too much water.[27]

Another disease can strike enset even though it has been more observed on Banana plants (Musacea). This disease is caused by Mycospharella spp. and is commonly called black Sigatoka leaf streaks. The symptoms are basically dark/brown lesions surrounded by yellow on the leaves.[33][34][35][36] This disease happens to be favoured by high rainfall and lower temperature.[37][38][39]
Socio-cultural importance of enset in Ethiopia

Enset cultivation in Ethiopia is reported to be 10,000 years old, though there is little emprical evidence to support this.[40][41][27] It has major economic, social, cultural and environmental functions related to trade, medicine, cultural identity, rituals or settlement patterns.[40][27][42]

Enset-planting complex is one of the four farming systems of Ethiopia together with pastoralism, shifting cultivation and the seed-farming complex. It is widely used by around 20 million people which represent 20-25% of the population. They mainly live in the densely populated highlands of south, southwest Ethiopia.[41][27]

The plant is very important for food security because it is quite resistant to droughts (growth only stops for a short time) and it can be harvested at any development stage.[41] Nevertheless, in recent years, the population growth has put an important pressure on enset cultivation systems. This is mainly because of a decrease of fertilization through manure and an increase in demand, especially during droughts. At such times, enset becomes the only resource available.[41]
The role of gender in enset cultivation

Gender roles in enset cultivation are of high importance,[40] as a strong division of work exists: generally men are responsible for the propagation, cultivation, and transplanting of enset, while women are in charge of manuring, hand-weeding, thinning and landrace selection.[27][41] Additionally, women process enset plants, which is a tedious work (transformation of the plant into useful material, principally food and fibres) for which they generally gather together. Men are banned from the field during this process.[40][41][27] As women are responsible to provide sufficient food to their family, they are the ones who choose when and which plant to harvest and which quantity to sell.[30]

Different studies state the importance of women's knowledge on the different crop varieties. Women are more likely to precisely recognize the different varieties of the plant than men.[40][30][41] Nevertheless, women's work is often neglected or considered of lesser importance than men's by researchers and farmers[40] and women are less likely to get access to extension services and quality services than men.[43]

Another important aspect in which gender plays a role is in the classification of enset varieties. Indeed, they differentiate "male" varieties from "female" varieties, according to the preferences of men and women who harvest them.[30] Whereas men prefer late maturing genotypes resistant to diseases, women prefer varieties that are good for cooking and can be harvested for consumption at an earlier stage.[30] In general, households tend to have slightly more “female” genotypes than "male" ones.[40][30]
Enset biodiversity and socio-cultural and -economic groups

In Ethiopia, over 300 enset varieties have been recorded[44] which is important for agro- and biodiversity. The farmers’ main interest for maintaining biodiversity is the different beneficial characteristics of each varietiy.[45] This means that Ethiopian farmers spread important characteristics over many enset varieties instead of combining a number of desired characteristics in one single genotype[45] This is a significant difference between Ethiopian subsistence farmers’ and plant breeders’ approaches.

More than 11 ethnic groups with different cultures, traditions and agricultural systems inhabit the enset-growing regions. This contributes to the high number of varieties.[41] Over centuries, the different ethnic groups have applied their specific indigenous knowledge of farming systems in order to sustain production in various ways. A dying out of enset varieties would hence also make disappear a part of cultural practices and linguistic terms in Ethiopia (Negash et al., 2004).[45]

Enset biodiversity is preserved not only due to the presence of different ethnic groups but also due to different households’ wealth status. Richer farmers can generally afford to maintain a higher level of farm biodiversity because they have more resources such as land, labour and livestock. Therefore, they can cultivate more varieties with differing specific characteristics.[41] However, also poorer households try to maintain as many clones as possible by selecting the disease-resistant first.[45]
Known variants and hybrids

Ensete ventricosum 'Atropurpureum'
Ensete ventricosum 'Green Stripe'
Red false banana (Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii', syn. Musa maurelii)
Ensete ventricosum 'Montbeliardii'
Ensete ventricosum 'Tandarra Red' (syn. Musa 'Tandarra Red')
Ensete ventricosum 'Red Stripe' (syn. Musa 'Red Stripe')
Ensete ventricosum 'Rubra' (syn. Musa ensete 'Rubra')

Sir John Kirk felt that in habit Ensete livingstonianum was indistinguishable from E. ventricosum and noted that both are found in the mountains of equatorial Africa.

Specimen in Jardin botanique exotique de Menton, Alpes-Maritimes, France

Flower detail

Plant on Mount Tsetserra, Mozambique

Stem detail


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