Plantain, Musa × paradisiaca (syn. Musa sapientum) is an herbaceous perennial belonging to the family Musaceae. Plantains are distinguished from bananas by their fruit which, although morphologically very similar to bananas, are actually longer, firmer and possess a higher starch content and thicker skin than their sweeter relative. Like banana, the plant is tall and tree-like with a sturdy pseudostem and large broad leaves arranged spirally at the top. The leaves are large blades with a pronounced central midrib and obvious veins. They can reach up to 2.7 m (8.9 ft) in length and up to 0.6 m (2.0 ft) in width. Each pseudostem produces a group of flowers from which the fruits develop in an hanging cluster. In commercial plantations, the parent plant dies after harvest and is replaced with a daughter plant. However, a plantation can grow for 25 years or more if managed properly. The trees can reach heights between 2 and 9 m (6.6–29.5 ft). Plantains and the cultivated varieties are derived from ancestors which originated from the Malaysian peninsula, New Guinea and South-East Asia.
Plantains are eaten as a vegetable and are cooked prior to consumption. They are an important component of many dishes in Western Africa and Caribbean countries. In addition, the leaves of Musa species can be used as a source of fibre for thread, cloth string, thread or can be used as thatch and roofing. The plants are also grown as an effective source of shade for other crops.
Plantains grow best in hot and humid climates, require a rainfall of at least 1000 mm (39.4 in) per year to survive and have a high light requirement. Plantains will grow optimally at 27°C (98.6°F) and require a deep soil, rich in organic matter which is well draining and well aerated. The plants will grow optimally in soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.0. Young plantains are very susceptible to wind damage and it is recommended that they are planted in sufficient shelter or in a block so that the plants will protect one another.
Plantains are vegetatively propagated, most often from suckers (shoots that grow from a bud at the base of the plant) or from corms (underground bulbs known as rhizomes). The use of whole corms is very laborious so it is more common to grow from small pieces of corm. There are three different types of banana suckers which are produced by the mother plant; maidenheads, sword suckers and water suckers. Maidenheads have a large pseudostem which does not produce fruit. Sword suckers have a narrow base, short pseudostem and narrow, blade-like leaves. They produce healthy, fruitful pseudostems when they mature Water suckers have short pseudostems and broad leaves. Water suckers are not strongly attached to the rhizome and generally produce weaker plants and less fruit. Maidenheads and large sword suckers are preferred over water suckers.
The desired pieces of the plant are usually planted 30–60 cm (11.8–23.6 in) deep in the soil and should generally be planted at the end of the dry season or the beginning of the wet season. Plant spacing is dependent on the cultivar being planted. Frequent weeding is required until plants are tall enough to shade out competing plants and should be started about 6 weeks after planting. Plantains are fast growing and require the frequent addition of nutrients as well as additional irrigation in the dry season. Plantain is often grown alongside other crop plants with similar requirements, indeed, the young banana plants make excellent 'nurses' for other crops such as papaya or cocoa which can be grown very close to the young plantains.
Brown spots on fruit peel; large brown to black areas; black lesions on green fruit
Wet conditions promote growth and spread of disease; spread by rainfall through plant or banana bunch
Commercially produced fruit should be washed and dipped in fungicide prior to shipping; protect fruit from injury; remove flower parts which can harbour fungus
Deformed plants with curled, shriveled leaves; if infestation is severe, galls may form on leaves; colonies of aphids usually present in crown of plant at base of pseudostem or between the outer leaf sheaths; aphid is soft-bodied and red-brown to almost black in color
Colonies are often tended by ants; populations can build rapidly during warm weather
Chemical control does not provide protection against transmission of Banana bunchy top and direct feeding damage is not usually severe enough to warrant spraying; insecticidal soaps can help control aphid populations; plants infected with bunch top should be removed and destroyed to prevent spread
Reduced plant growth; reduced fruit production; tunnels may be visible in corm as rounded holes up to 8 mm in diameter; plants wilting and toppling over; destruction of root system; plant death; adult insect is a hard-shelled beetle which is almost black in color; adult is commonly found between leaf sheaths; larvae are creamy-white, legless grubs with a red-brown head
Insects are nocturnal, feeding and mating only at night;
Plant only healthy plant material, do not plant if any tunnels are visible; hot water treatment of clean trimmed suckers can be used to kill off many eggs and grubs; applications of neem powder can reduce weevil numbers; appropriate insecticides applied at time of planting can help control weevil numbers
Red/brown flecks or spots on underside or topside of leaves; spots with dark or yellow border and grey centre; death of leaf surface; bunch not developing
Currently the most important disease of banana; promoted by high moisture and spores spread by wind
Export plantations may require regular fungicide applications; increase plant spacing to improve air circulation and reduce humidity; remove leaves with mature spots
Dark green streaks in leaves; chlorotic and upturned leaf margins; leaves brittle and erect; plant has a ‘bunchy top’; no bunches produced
Aphid transmitted; when infected symptoms appear after two more leaves are produced
Plant less susceptible varieties; destroy infected plants to prevent spread of disease
Small, flat, whitish scales, usually on undersides of leaves but may also attach to petioles, peduncles and fruit; plant tissue discolored and yellowing
Coconut scale attacks a large number of hosts including coconut and other palm species, avocado, cassava, papaya, guava and sugar cane; most common in tropical regions
Biological control is the best way to manage scale, with lady beetles providing the most effective protection
Older leaves chlorotic, wilted and collapsing; spreads to entire canopy; collapse of pseudostem
Can be spread root to root or by insects or human activities such as machete pruning
Plantations should be regularly monitored for presence of disease; if Moko is present, male buds should be removed and all tools thoroughly disinfected; infected plants may need to be destroyed along with any neighbouring plants
Yellowing of older leaves; splitting of leaf sheaths; leaves wilting and buckling; death of entire canopy
Lethal disease; spread in soil or running water
Use disease free seed pieces; currently no effective treatment once plants are infected
Pseudostem breaks from rhizome; rhizome will not germinate; internal tissue yellow/brown and watery
Bacteria live in soil and enter plant through wounds; disease encouraged by wet, humid conditions
Select only high quality, disease-free rhizomes fro propagation; disinfect all tools used for propagation regularly; allow seed pieces to dry before planting
CABI Crop Protection Compendium. (2008). Musa datasheet. Available at: http://www.cabi.org/cpc/datasheet/351... 05 November 14]. Paid subscription required.
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Ploetz, R. C., Zentmyer, G. A., Nishijima, W. T., Rohrbach, K. G. & Ohr, H. D. (Eds) (1994). Compendium of Tropical Fruit Diseases. American Phytopathological Society Press. Available at: http://www.apsnet.org/apsstore/shopap.... Available for purchase from APS Press.
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