East African highland bananas subgroup – from Promusa

East African highland bananas subgroup

Genome group: AAA
Subgroup: East African highland bananas
Distribution: East Africa

East African highland bananas (EAHBs) form a distinct subgroup of bananas that have been domesticated in the Great Lakes region of East Africa. EAHBs grow best between 1400-2000m.

The subgroup was first called Lujugira-Mutika by Kenneth Shepherd1. An analysis of the morphological characters of accessions from Uganda revealed 84 cultivars2. The total number is probably higher as other cultivars have been observed elsewhere in the region3.

Phytolith evidence suggests that the ancestors of this subgroup have arrived on the African continent as long as 4,000 years ago 45. However, the identification of these phytoliths as belonging to bananas has been questioned6.

 Main characteristics

EAHBs are used in cooking and in making beer. They can be eaten ripe like dessert bananas, but their pulp is rather insipid.

Most of the cooking types change into beer types. The mechanism behind this change is not known.

The  pseudostem is characteristically dark, its colour varying from brown to black.

The male bud is a dull purple-brown.

The male flowers have pink anthers and an orange stigma. The lobe of the compound petal is yellow.

Clone sets

The cultivars in the subgroup have been classified into five clone sets: Nfuuka, Musakala, Nakabulu, Nakitembe and Mbidde2.


Nfuuka means “changing”. The cultivars in this clone set are morphologically unstable. It is the most heterogenous of the clones sets and also contains the greatest number of cultivars.

The bunch is compact and hangs at an angle that varies from slight to 45 degrees. Fruit are medium in size fruit and point up at an angle. The tip of the male bud is not imbricated, i.e. the bracts meet at the tip. The rachis is generally bare.


Musakala means “lax”, which refers to the spacing between the fruit.

The bunch points vertically down. The fruit are long (more than 20 cm) and point up. The tip is bottlenecked. The male bud is not imbricated. The rachis points vertically down.


Nakabulu means “short and plump”. The bunch is compact and the fruit are short and jut out at a right angle. All the fruit ripen simultaneously.

The bunch hangs at an angle. The tip of the male bud is more or less rounded. The rachis is bare and hangs at an angle


Nakitembe means ‘like ekitembe’, ekitembe being the local name in Uganda for enset.

The cultivars in this clone set resemble enset in that the bracts and floral bracts of the male flowers persist on the rachis. The male bud is imbricated. Fruits have persitent style and stamins.


Mbidde means beer. The cultivars in this clone set can have characters of other clone sets but they all have in common that their pulp is bitter and astringent. The latex is plentiful and sticky, and the pseudostem is darker.

Beer types are usually found at altitude.


1. Shepherd, K. 1957. Banana cultivars in East Africa. Trop. Agric. 34:277-286.
2. Karamura D. A. 1999. Numerical taxonomic studies of the East African highland banana (Musa AAA-East Africa) in Uganda.(external link) PhD thesis from the University of Reading
3. Tanzania Musa: expedition 2001(external link) by E. de Langhe, D. Karamura and A. Mbwana
4. Lejju, J.B., D. Taylor, P. Robertshaw. 2005. Late-Holocene environmental variability at Munsa archaeological site, Uganda: a multicore, multiproxy approach. The Holocene 15:1044-1061.
5. Lejju, J.B., P. Robertshaw, D. Taylor. 2006. Africa’s earliest bananas? Journal of Archaeological Science 33:102-113.
6. Neuman, K. and Hildebrand, E. 2009. Early Bananas in Africa: The state of the art.(external link) Ethnobotany Research & Applications 7:353-362.
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Date: Tuesday, 10. July 2012 14:39
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