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Scientific name of the banana


Illustration of Musa Paradisiaca

Cultivated bananas are unusual in not having a Latin scientific name beyond the name the 18th century botanist Carl Linnaeus gave to the genus to which wild and domesticated bananas belong: Musa. Linneaus also coined the name Musa paradisiaca.  Being the first Linnean name given to a banana, it is technically the "type species" for the genus Musa, except that the banana he described was a cultivar. As 20th century botanist Ernest Cheesman noted, "the classification of the cultivated varieties is almost a separate problem from the general taxonomy of the genus, needing a different technique for its solution"[1].

Latin binomials were eventually replaced by a genome-based nomenclature system that uses the letters A and B to classify cultivars according to the relative contribution of the two wild species from which the majority of edible bananas are derived — Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana — and their ploidy: whether they have 2 (diploid), 3 (triploid) or 4 (tetraploid) copies of each chromosome. The main genome groups are AA, AB, AAA, AAB and ABB.

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, such as 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, depending on the region — to infer information about the cultivar based on its subgroup and genome group.

In scientific articles, the name of the cultivar should be in single quotes, given that many subgroups have been named after a cultivar. It should also be accompanied by the genus, as well as the genome group and the subgroup when the latter are known. Example: Musa AAA (Cavendish subgroup) 'Robusta'.

Nevertheless the pull of Latin binomials is still strong. Another 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) even though banana cultivars no longer fit the description of these wild species.

The genome-base nomenclature system proved very useful to scientists, but not all cultivars have been identified to their group and subgroup levels. It also has not been applied to the cultivated bananas that are derived from other wild species. In the case of Fe'i bananas, this would require identifying the wild ancestors of this unusual group.

Related content

The domestication of the banana

Contributors to this page: Anne Vézina .
Page last modified on Monday, 06 February 2017 10:22:54 CET by Anne Vézina.