A wild banana from south-east Asia with pink fruits, which are an important staple food for wild Asian elephants. The Musa itinerans was the 24,200th plant species saved at Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, marking the banking of 10% of the world’s wild plant species.
Yunnan banana (Musa itinerans) is distributed from north-east India to Vietnam and is also found in China, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand. This species is increasingly under threat in the wild as its jungle habitat is cleared for commercial agriculture.
Individual plants commonly grow to between 3-7 m high, but can reach up to 12 m, with leaves around 3 m in length and 90 cm in width. Shoots grow from a creeping, elongating underground stem (rhizome) leading to the species name “itinerans”.
The banana flower (inflorescence) emerges as a dark reddish bud and as it opens, the slim, nectar-rich, tubular flowers appear. They are clustered in a circular patten (whorled) of double rows along the floral stalk. Each cluster is covered by a thick, waxy, hood-like bract. There are 12-16 flowers per bract.
Following botanical terminology, the banana fruit is actually a berry with up to 18 banana berries per cluster and up to ten clusters per fruiting head (infructescence). Each banana is up to 14 cm long and contains numerous seeds.