Taxonomic-linguistic study of plantain in Africa

G. Rossel

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Plantain is a cooking banana (Musa spp. AAB group (Musaceae)) that is grown as a major food crop in many parts of Africa, especially in the Central-African and West-African rain forest areas. The crop originated in Asia, but its greatest diversity is to be found in Africa.

We are dealing here with an interspecific, triploid hybrid of Musa balbisiana and one or more sub-species of M. acuminata, with the genome formula AAB. The plant is sterile and can only be multiplied clonally, which is why breeding is difficult. Knowledge about the genetic background of the crop, however, is very important because once the parental sub-species are identified, these can be used in breeding.

There are still many gaps in our knowledge about the history of plantain, both in Asia and in Africa. It is only fragmentarily known how, where and when the plant came into existence, when, whence and by whom it was brought to Africa and how it spread and diversified in this continent.

Musa plants do not leave archaeological traces behind and historical sources are scarce. We only have present-day material at our disposal, i.e. cultivars and vernacular names, the nature, distribution and spread of which may give us clues about the history of the crop in the African continent.

In doing so, we have to take into account other plants that are closely related to musa, or that have similar morphological features and/or uses, and therefore possess similar names in African languages. We also have to take into account the ecological conditions in those parts of the continent where plantain is grown, as well as the economies and (cultural) histories of the people cultivating plantain.

A more technical problem is formed by the classification and nomenclature of plantain cultivars. Until now this problem has not been satisfactorily solved, and suggestions to this end are therefore presented in this study.

This study is also meant to be an exploration into the possibilities of a multi-disciplinary approach to crop history. Ultimately, a better understanding of the historical background of crops might serve other disciplines too; in the first place, but not uniquely, plant breeding, plant taxonomy, ((agri)cultural) history and ethnobotany.

Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • van der Maesen, L.J.G., Promotor
  • Schadeberg, T.C., Promotor, External person
  • Zeven, A.C., Promotor
Award date21 Apr 1998
Place of PublicationLeiden
Print ISBNs9789057890048
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • musaceae
  • musa
  • bananas
  • taxonomy
  • botany
  • biological nomenclature
  • languages
  • literacy
  • africa


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