Biodiversity in Belize
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Checklist of the vascular plants of Belize

 

The Banana Musa balbisiana Colla

established in Central Belize

Jan Meerman

 

Introduction

M. balbisiana Colla - this seedy-fruited, species from southern Asia has been used as a parent in several cultivars, due to its disease resistance, drought tolerance, and general hardiness to environmental factors. It is a diploid, symbolized BB. Its natural range does not overlap that of M. acuminata, but human migration in this region allowed these two species to hybridize in nature many years ago. This gave rise to 3 additional genotypes, AB, AAB, and ABB, being 1/2, 1/3, and 2/3 balbisiana, respectively. Hybrids (AB, AAB, ABB) are sometimes given the name Musa x paradisiaca L. (syn.s Musa x sapientum L., M. acuminata x M. balbisiana Colla).

 

Musa balbisiana bunch

In the field (at least Belize), M. balbisiana is easily recognized by the leaves that grow in a more upright position compared to cultivated bananas.

 

The fruit bunch is pendent, very compact, the crowded fruits having little room (except in the basal hand) and reflex geotropically. Consequently the fruits, for the most part are standing out from the rachis.

 

The individual fruit is about 10 cm. long and 4 cm in diameter. The pale yellow fruit is also distinctly angulate at maturity.

The pulp is whitish, the seeds are black, irregularly globose, scarcely depressed, minutely warty, 5 - 6 mm. across and 4 - 5 mm. high. Musa balbisiana fruit

In contrast to the polymorphic Musa acuminata with numerous subspecies identified, Musa balbisiana is a remarkably uniform species with only one variety reported.

 

Locally, the fruits of Musa balbisiana are used to produce a beverage. Ripe fruits are strained to remove the seeds. Musa balbisiana is the true Japanese Fiber Banana grown in the Ryukyu Islands of Japan from which the cloth basho is woven.

 

Musa balbisiana at Mayflower Bocawina National Park

Situation in Belize

Musa Balbisiana was not originally reported in Balick et al (2000) and was finally identified during a Rapid Ecological Assessment of the Mayflower Bocawina National Park.

In the more disturbed lowland parts of this Park, M. balbisiana was very common. Just outside the park in abandoned farmland, this banana had reached pest proportions and locally outcompeted anything else.

Further surveys indicated that M. balbisiana also occurred along the Hummingbird Highway. Subsequently these locations were mapped using GPS coordinates and entered in a GIS system. In total two centers of distribution were located in the Stann Creek district and one in the Cayo district. It is quite possible that not all locations have been identified and that the distribution of the species is more wide than the map suggests. Reports that this species also occurs in the Toledo district have, so far, not been confirmed.

 

 

Species displacement

Where the species occurs it is found in lowland areas that are headily disturbed as a result of agricultural activities. Typically the highest densities are found along streams. At such locations the density can be very high and very few other plant species can be found. In areas regenerating back to forest such as in the Mayflower Bocawina National Park, the species persists for a long time, but seems to disappear as soon as the canopy cover of the new forest closes.

 

Natural propagation

The presence of M. balbisiana in Belize is without question the result of introduction by man. Possibly plants were introduced as experimental material for the improvement of existing banana stocks. The current distribution pattern of the species, suggest a more natural distribution, probably birds and/or bats.

 

The fruits are filled with seeds (see picture above), and germination experiments I carried out using fresh seed, revealed a seed-viability of approximately 95%. This high viability, and the fact that banana's are readily eaten by a large number of frugivorous bats and birds, would seem to guarantee a rapid spread of the species.

 

The fact that the species is still restricted to a limited area is probably the result of the ecological requirements of the species. The species, like all bananas needs fairly fertile soils and abundant moisture. Also, it is incapable of surviving and reproducing under a closed forest canopy. The current locations with the species are essentially locked up between areas with an intact forest cover and areas with poor (savanna) soils. However, as deforestation progresses, the species is likely to expand further throughout Belize.

 


References:

Balick, M.J., M.H.Nee & D.E.Atha. 2000. Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Belize. New York Botanical Garden Press. 246 pp.

Constantine, D. 2003. The genus Musa - an annotated list of species (website)

INIBAP, 2001. Banana Taxonomy (*.pfd)

Sauer, J.D. 1993. Historical geography of crop plants - a select roster. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Florida.


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