It's a banana - Ethiopian style

Date posted: 18 November 2016

During my career I’ve worked in Australian botanic gardens with living collections that focus on our native flora, including the Australian National Botanic Gardens (Canberra) and Tondoon Botanic Garden (Gladstone, QLD) and some research in the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden in Coffs Harbour (NSW).

An exciting aspect of getting to know the living collections of Adelaide, Mount Lofty and Wittunga Botanic Gardens in my new role is exploring and widening my plant knowledge beyond our diverse and unique Australian flora.

With more than 15,000 taxa in our collections across three gardens, there’s a lot to learn from plant experts in horticulture, science and ethnobotany in the botanic gardens and State Herbarium.

I’m very familiar with the commercial bananas we munch on (cultivars of Musa acuminata) and Australia’s native banana (Musa banksii in Far North Queensland), which is a wild crop relative.

Until recently I hadn’t known the genera Ensete from the banana family Musaceae. What a delight to be introduced to this Ensete ventricosum at Adelaide Botanic Garden by Andrew Carrick, the Gardens’ Manager of Collections and Horticulture! It has a spectacular flower and is an important and useful plant.

Ensete ventricosum, commonly known as the Ethiopian banana, is a close relative of cultivated bananas.

While it definitely looks like a banana plant, I’ve discovered it’s cultivated for its vegetative parts, not its fruit. It’s an important staple food in southern and south-western Ethiopia.

The pulp of the pseudostems (part of the plant that looks like a trunk, made up of tightly packed leaf sheaths) is chopped and grated and is used as a flour to prepare “kocho” bread, porridge or soup.

The underground stem (rhizome) is also boiled and eaten like potatoes, or chopped up and left to ferment.

The starchy endosperm (part of the seed that acts as a food store for the growing plant) of the hard seeds is also consumed, and the base of the flower stalk is cooked and eaten as a vegetable.

I urge you to discover this fascinating plant during your next visit to the Garden – you can check them out on the main walk, 50 metres in from the North Terrace gates (on the left-hand/hospital side near the hound statue), or in the Classgrounds, about 50 metres east of North Lodge (near the bamboo collection).

Dr Lucy Sutherland
Director, Botanic Gardens of South Australia and State Herbarium

Reference: Ensete ventricosum (Ethiopian banana), Royal Botanic Gardens Kew