FAMILY: Musaceae

Giant banana plant.

Can you imagine a banana plant 18 m (over 59 feet) tall? A banana type this big occurs in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The country certainly lives up to its title of "Land of the Unexpected"

I encountered the awesome Musa ingens while visiting Papua New Guinea in November, 1989. My visit was funded by the International Board of Plant Genetic Resources which supports the collection of rare and endangered varieties of plants so that valuable genetic material is not lost.

Musa ingens is a wild relative of the cultivated bananas but is twice as large as any other banana type known. Mature bunches of fruit weight from 30 to 60 kg but it is not good to eat because the fruit are full of hard black seeds, as is the case with many other wild species of bananas.

Musa ingens can be found in various parts of the Eastern and Western Highlands including Kassam Pass, Aiyura, Bundi Kara, Mt Piora, the Kybor range, Kamang, Minj Valley and above the Tsau River north of Banz. It grows in the cool misty rainforests at these locations at altitudes of 1000 to 2100 metres above sea level. It will not survive at much lower altitudes because it is completely intolerant of the continuous high temperatures experienced in the lowlands.

A bunch from the giant banana plant.

The size of this banana plant is impressive, but of great value is this plant's adaptation to cool weather. Planting material was collected on the trip. Perhaps in the future sometime, it will be possible to genetically engineer bananas to better suit cooler growing conditions using genes from Musa ingens.

Threats to the commercial banana industry in Queensland by black Sigatoka leaf disease present in Papua New Guinea means that strict quarantine must be enforced when banana varieties are being introduced to ensure diseases do not enter and jeopardise our industry.

Jeff Daniells,
QDPI South Johnstone

DATE: May 1992

* * * * * * * * * * * * *