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Scientific name of banana


The banana is unusual in having two nomenclature systems: one for the wild species of banana and one for cultivated bananas.

The naming of wild species of banana follows the formal scientific system of giving each species a two-part Latin name (the first part identifies the genus to which the species belongs — Musa in the case of bananas — and the second part the species).  

The nomenclature system for cultivated bananas foregoes Latin names. It was developed in the early 1950s by Norman Simmonds and Kenneth Shepherd[1]. The system eliminated the difficulties and inconsistencies of a taxonomy based on Musa paradisiaca and Musa sapientum[2].

The cultivars are classified into genome groups based on their ploidy — whether they have 2 (diploid), 3 (triploid) or 4 (tetraploid) copies of each gene-bearing chromosome — and the relative contribution of the wild species from which they are derived. Simmonds and Shepherd developed a scoring system based on morphological characters to assign to a genome group the cultivars related to Musa acuminata alone, denoted by the letter A, or also to Musa balbisiana, denoted by the letter B, through hybridization. The main genome groups are: AA, AB, AAA, AAB and ABB. These genome groups cover the vast majority of known cultivars.

Genome groups are further subdivided into subgroups of cultivars that are closely related to each other and as a result share a number of defining traits. Examples are the Cavendish, Plantain and East African highland bananas subgroups. This system allows people who are not familiar with a given cultivar — many of which have different names — to infer information about the cultivar based on its subgroup and genome group.

The recommendation is to put the name of the cultivar in single quotes. It should preceded by the genus (Musa), as well as the genome group and the subgroup when the latter are known. Example: Musa AAA (Cavendish subgroup) 'Robusta'.

Nevertheless the appeal of Latin binomials is still strong. For example, a search of the bibliographic database Musalit uncovered 130 scientific articles published between 2000 and 2017 that have Musa paradisiaca in their title[3]. Another relatively common practice is to use the Latin name of the wild ancestors (e. g.  Musa acuminata or Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana for interspecific hybrids).

Despite its usefulness, the genome-base nomenclature system has been only partly adopted; to some extent because of difficulties in assigning cultivars to a group and subgroup, but also because many scientists, journal editors and online index continue to use  Latin binomials for cultivars. Moreover, it has not been applied to the cultivated bananas that are derived from other wild species, like the Fe'i bananas, whose wild ancestor(s) are still a matter of speculation.

1. Simmonds, N.W. and Shepherd, K. 1955. The taxonomy and origins of the cultivated bananas. Journal of the Linnean Society of London, Botany 55:302-312.
3. Search results on the number of articles in the Musalit database that have Musa paradisiaca in their title.

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