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the web of life in southern Africa

Ensete ventricosum (Wild banana)

Afrikaanse Wildepiesang [Afrikaans]

Life > eukaryotes > Archaeoplastida > Chloroplastida > Charophyta > Streptophytina > Plantae (land plants) > Tracheophyta (vascular plants) > Euphyllophyta > Lignophyta (woody plants) > Spermatophyta (seed plants) > Angiospermae (flowering plants) > Monocotyledons > Order: Zingiberales > Family: Musaceae

Ensete ventricosum (Wild banana)

Ensete ventricosum (Wild banana), under cultivation in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, Cape Town. [photo H. Robertson ]

Ensete ventricosum, Bridal Veil Falls, Chimanimani, Zimbabwe. [photo Bart Wursten , Flora of Zimbabwe]


Grows into a tree up to 12 m high, with a radiating crown of banana-like leaves, each leaf measuring up to 6 m long. Flowers are borne in 1-1.2 m long spikes and hidden within cylinders of bronze-red bracts. Fruit look like small bananas but are packed with small pea-sized seeds and do not contain the soft flesh one would like to exspect.

Distribution and habitat

This is the only native banana species found in southern Africa. In South Africa it is found in the Limpopo province in forests with high rainfall, occurring usually in ravines and along streams. It also occurs in eastern forests of Zimbabwe and further north as far as Ethiopia.

Uses by humans

In Ethiopia, food is obtained from pulp in the stems and rootstock, and the remaining fibres are used for making ropes and sacking.  



  • Brickell, C. (Ed.) 1998. The Royal Horticultural Society A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants. Dorling Kindersley, London.

  • Palgrave, K.C. and Palgrave, M.C. 2002. Trees of Southern Africa. 3rd Edition. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.