April 3, 2014
Musa acuminata is a wild species of banana native to Southeast Asia. M. acuminata is one of the earliest domesticated plants in the past and is the progenitor of most edible bananas today.
The red banana (or Claret banana or Cavendish banana “Cuban Red,” or Jamaican red banana, or red Cavendish banana) is no exception; this banana is a triploid strain of M. acuminata just like the yellow Cavendish banana that has filled North American shelves since 1950.
Specific cultivars like these are quickly categorized by their genetic information. All cultivated bananas today get their genes from two wild species, Musa balbisiana and M. acuminata. Frequently these cultivars are polyploidy. The convention arose to apply the letters A and B to the chromosome sets that come from M. acuminata and M. balbisiana respectively. The Cavendish group of cultivars is also known as the AAA group.
Polyploid bananas are seedless and must be propagated by vegetative means. As a consequence, there is very little genetic variation in banana crops. The Gros Michel (or Big Mike) banana that preceded the Cavendish in U.S. grocers is also in the AAA group. It was replaced by the Cavendish banana when it was wiped out by Panama disease starting in the early 20th century.
Mid-2008 saw reports from Sumatra and Malaysia of possible susceptibility to Panama disease in Cavendish-like cultivars.
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