Ensete ventricosum (PROTA)

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Plant Resources of Tropical Africa
List of species

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distribution in Africa (wild)
1, habit of flowering plant; 2, inflorescence; 3, fruit; 4, seed Redrawn and adapted by M.M. Spitteler
young plants
fruit with seeds

Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman

Protologue: Kew Bull. 1947(2): 101 (1948).
Family: Musaceae
Chromosome number: 2n = 18


  • Musa ensete J.F.Gmel. (1791),
  • Musa ventricosa Welw. (1859),
  • Ensete edule Bruce ex Horan. (1862).

Vernacular names

  • Enset, false banana (En).
  • Ensète, bananier d’Abyssinie (Fr).

Origin and geographic distribution

The wild form of Ensete ventricosum is widespread in tropical Africa from Ethiopia, through Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania south to Mozambique and South Africa (Transvaal), and west to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Enset is cultivated only in Ethiopia, where it was first domesticated possibly about 8000 years ago. The centre of enset cultivation is in the mountains of south-western Ethiopia.


Enset is the main food for 7–10 million people in the highlands of south and south-western Ethiopia. These regions are among the most densely populated in the whole of Ethiopia and are inhabited by more than 11 ethnic groups, which show great variation in culture and agricultural practices. Enset is primarily grown to produce a starchy food from the pseudostem, corm and stalk of the inflorescence. The mixture of scraped pseudostem pulp and the pulverized corm and stalk of the inflorescence is put into a pit for fermentation and the resulting product is locally called ‘kocho’. ‘Bulla’ is prepared from the starchy liquid obtained by squeezing the mixture. The solid parts can be consumed after they are allowed to settle for some days. Both kocho and bulla are mostly made into a dough that is rolled out into a thin layer and baked on a hotplate over an open fire. In some enset-growing areas, kocho is a prestige food kept for feasts and ceremonies. At weddings, a leavened bread made from kocho and wheat flour is sometimes served. Bulla is also eaten as a porridge. The enset corm is eaten as ‘amicho’, i.e. cooked fresh and consumed in a way similar to potato, sweet potato or cassava.

The leaf sheaths of Ensete ventricosum provide good quality fibre for making rope, twine, baskets, suitcases, mats and sacks. The dried leaf sheaths are used as packing and wrapping material, in fences, mattresses, mats and in house construction. Fresh leaves provide shade in nurseries. The entire plant or parts of it, except the roots, are used to feed livestock. Ethiopian people believe that particular Ensete ventricosum landraces have various medicinal properties. Enset is used to treat broken bones. A decoction of pounded leaves is taken to stimulate labour or induce abortion. Hepatitis and other liver complaints are treated with ash and infusions from the fruit and leaves. Enset landraces with peculiar leaf and pseudostem colour are grown worldwide for ornamental purposes.

Outside Ethiopia use of Ensete is only reported from Vietnam, where it provided an emergency food during the Second World War. In parts of north and central Vietnam the growing point is used as a vegetable.

Production and international trade

Ensete ventricosum is economically important only in Ethiopia. Ethiopian statistics indicate that there are 167,900 ha of enset. In 1997 about 3.28 million t of kocho and 0.12 million t bulla were produced. An average family, dependent on enset as a major food crop, cultivates 200–400 plants, and the yearly consumption per person averages from 10 to 20 plants.


The main feature of enset foods is their high energy value (1410–1950 kJ per 100 g dry matter of kocho, 1580–1850 kJ per 100 g dry matter of bulla), derived almost entirely from carbohydrates. Fresh kocho contains 47–62 g moisture per 100 g. Per 100 g dry matter the approximate composition of kocho is: protein 1.1–2.8 g, fat 0.2–0.5 g, carbohydrates 95–98 g, fibre 2.3–6.2 g, ash 1.7 g, Ca 60 mg, P 68 mg, Fe 7 mg, thiamine 0.06 mg, riboflavin 0.08 mg, niacin 0.6 mg. The moisture content of bulla ranges from 44–55 g per 100 g fresh material. Per 100 g dry matter the approximate composition of bulla is: protein 0.4–0.8(–1.9) g, fat 0.2–0.4 g, carbohydrates 93–98 g, fibre 0.6–0.8 g, ash 0.2 g, Ca 91 mg, P 44 mg, Fe 5.8 mg, thiamine 0.02 mg, niacin 0.2 mg.

Little is known about fibre quality. Its strength of about 50 g/denier is somewhat greater than sisal but less than abaca.

Feed value of whole enset plants is higher than that of many crop by-products. The leaves contain on average per 100 g dry matter about 12 g crude protein, 63 g neutral detergent fibre (NDF), 41 g acid detergent fibre (ADF), 7 g lignin and 13 g ash; the pseudostem contains on average 7 g crude protein, 24 g NDF, 10 g ADF, 2 g lignin and 8 g ash.


Monocarpic, perennial giant herb 4–8(–11) m tall, with pseudostem formed of overlapping leaf sheaths, swollen at the base, the underground portion consisting of a corm 0.7–1.8 m long, with circumference 1.5–2.5 m at maturity; root system usually adventitious. Leaves arranged spirally, arising from the apex of the corm, with elongated leaf sheaths; lamina oblong to oblanceolate-oblong, up to 5 m × 1.5 m, entire, with strongly channelled midrib and many parallel lateral veins, bright to dark green, midrib, petiole and margin sometimes pale to dark red or dark purple, rarely the lower side reddish. Inflorescence a terminal thyrse growing up through the centre of the pseudostem and thus appearing to arise from its apex, bearing cincinnate flower clusters in axils of spathaceous bracts on an indeterminate main axis, exserted part of inflorescence commonly 1–2 m long, drooping. Flowers unisexual, zygomorphic, functionally female ones on the proximal part of the inflorescence, male ones on the distal part; male flowers with one 3-lobed outer tepal up to 5.5 cm long, white with orange-yellow tips, one serrate-apiculate inner tepal, 5 up to 5 cm long stamens having violet to purple anthers, sometimes also with a staminode up to 1 cm long, and a slender style up to 2 cm long; female flowers with one deeply 3-lobed outer tepal up to 5.5 cm long, 1–3 inner tepals variable in shape with 2 wings and an apiculum up to 1.5 cm long, 0–5 more or less rudimentary stamens, and an inferior, 3-celled ovary bearing a style 2.5–4 cm long, with a large capitate stigma. Fruit an oblong-obovoid berry, 8–15 cm × 3–4.5 cm, orange when mature, rather dry, fibrous, 1–10-seeded. Seeds irregularly subglobose, about 1.5–2.5 cm in diameter, black.

Other botanical information

The genus Ensete comprises about 7 species, 3 in tropical Africa, 1 in Madagascar and 3 in tropical Asia. Among the African species, Ensete gillettii (De Wild.) Cheesman is native from Sierra Leone to Angola and Malawi, and Ensete homblei (De Wild.) Cheesman is native to southern Democratic Republic of Congo and northern Zambia. Ensete is not well studied, as the size of all its parts makes it difficult to collect for herbaria. It differs from Musa in its large seeds and in its monocarpic habit (i.e. each plant dies after fruiting).

Growth and development

In natural forest, the seeds of Ensete ventricosum are dispersed by birds, monkeys and other animals. Lack of imbibition due to hardseededness is one of the factors delaying germination. The germination of the seed is followed by rapid elongation of the scutellar arm and expansion or swelling of the hypocotyl/epicotyl axis. The micropylar plug is then extruded, the axis emerges through the seed coat and the primary root follows. The primary root is short-lived and is replaced by rapid growth of a ring of seminal adventitious roots. The cotyledon tip remains in the hard endosperm and is joined to the base of the radicle. As a result of elongation of the epicotyl the cotyledon starts to appear out of the hard endosperm. The cotyledonary sheath is a coleoptile-like structure. The second leaf is also sheath-like and the third bears a relatively expanded lamina; finally a growing point with a one-layered white tunica (which later on becomes green) is formed. New leaves emerge successively through the pseudostem. Similar to other musaceous plants, the leaf of Ensete ventricosum is fully developed prior to emergence. Soon after emergence it unfurls and the lamina assumes a horizontal position and later bends slightly downwards. About 80 leaves are formed during the life-time of a plant. The shoot of Ensete ventricosum consists of a single bud embedded in the swollen axis, a pseudostem and the lamina. At the end of the vegetative phase, the bud starts to grow upwards all the way through the centre of the pseudostem forming the aerial stem on which later the inflorescence develops. The rate of progress from emergence to flowering depends on factors such as landrace/cultivar, altitude, spacing, number of transplantings and soil fertility. In general, enset takes 2–10 years to flower, and about 6 months from flowering to fruiting.


Ensete ventricosum occurs naturally in montane forest and riverine forest, often in clearings, gullies and near streams. In Ethiopia it occurs naturally between (500–)1000–1600(–2400) m altitude. In cultivation it occurs at altitudes from 1600–3100 m, but scattered plants can also be found at lower altitudes. However, it grows best at elevations between 1800 m and 2450 m. Climatic conditions at higher elevations, especially low temperature and frost, hamper the growth of the crop and its maturation may take twice as long, or even longer, than in lower regions. For optimum growth enset requires an average annual rainfall of 1100–1500 mm. Although it needs a well-distributed rainfall at the early stages of growth and a fairly high average rainfall, established enset plants can tolerate periods of drought and frost. In Ethiopia, food security is better in enset-based farming systems than in cereal-based ones. Monthly mean temperatures of 16–20°C are optimal, but growth is acceptable from 5–25°C. Enset grows well in most fertile and well- drained soils, ideally moderately acidic to alkaline (pH 5.6–7.3) with 2–3% organic matter.

Propagation and planting

Ensete ventricosum is usually propagated by suckers from an immature corm, but propagation by seeds is occasionally practiced in some parts of Ethiopia to increase genetic diversity. Scarification and pre-soaking or temperature treatment of up to 40°C are needed to enhance germination. In vegetative propagation, an immature enset plant is cut 10–15 cm above the junction of the pseudostem and corm. The corm is then split into 2–4 equal parts and the apical bud is removed to break apical dominance and induce the formation of several buds from the mother corm. The split corms are planted immediately or stored in shade for 2–3 days if there is rain. They are planted 1 m apart and 50–150 new suckers appear 4–6 weeks later. In the traditional cropping system, suckers are separated from the mother corm after 1 year or more, and are planted in a well-manured nursery. Plants are subsequently transplanted yearly into new nurseries until they are finally planted in the field where they are left until harvest. The number of transplantings varies depending on the region and farm, but can be up to four. Where land is less scarce, enset suckers can be planted directly into their final location at a spacing of 2–3 m between rows and 1–1.5 m within rows.


Important differences in the farming systems exist between the ethnic groups in the comparatively small area of cultivation of enset. The extent to which the staple crop is supplemented by other crops may vary considerably, which has also some bearing on management practices, but all ethnic groups have a prominent interest in cultivating enset. Enset is the main food source among the Gurage, and among the Sidama and related groups. Tuber crops or cereals are other staple crops of the Kaffa in south-western Ethiopia, and of the Wolaita. Tuber crops are more important than enset for the Bench, whereas cereals are more important for the Oromo in West Ethiopia.

Enset is grown as a monoculture of similarly sized plants, or in mixed stands of different sizes, ages and clones. Young enset plants are usually intercropped with annual crops (e.g. maize, beans, cabbage, taro and potatoes), and older plants with perennials (such as avocado, coffee and citrus). Enset is grown closest to the house so that the plants can easily be fertilized with cow dung and house refuse.

Weeding in Ensete ventricosum is important especially in the early stages of growth. During the rainy season (May–October), hand weeding and slashing is done 2–3 times depending on the amount of rain and the age of the crop. At later stages, slashing and removal of older leaves once a year is enough. In the dry season, deep cultivation is necessary to remove weeds such as Cynodon dactylon (L.) Pers. and Cyperus rotundus L.

Enset grows very well around homesteads where animal manure and household refuse are easily spread. These methods of maintaining soil fertility have been common practice in traditional production systems. The amount of manure and frequency of application decrease as the age of the plantation increases. After manuring, transplanted enset suckers are often mulched with dried grasses or plant debris; in the dry season old enset leaves, weeds and animal bedding are also used as a mulch. Enset biomass increases significantly when nitrogen and phosphorus are applied, but the effect on starch yield is limited. Potassium has only a marginal effect on biomass growth but favourably increases starch production. The perennial canopy of enset intercepts heavy rain, thereby reducing soil erosion, and also reduces soil temperature.

Diseases and pests

The most serious disease of enset is bacterial wilt caused by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris pv musacearum. It is present in virtually all enset-growing areas. It is very destructive and kills enset plants at all stages of growth. Current control measures include uprooting and discarding infected plants, planting healthy, disease-free plants from less susceptible landraces, cleaning equipment that has come in contact with diseased plant material, crop rotation, avoiding overflow of water from infested to uninfested fields, removing Canna indica L. around enset as it acts as an alternate host and controlling leafhoppers, aphids and mole rats that may transmit the pathogen. Leaf spot diseases caused by the fungi Phyllosticta sp., Piricularia sp. and Drechslera sp. commonly affect suckers, seedlings and young plants. Control measures include thinning overcrowded suckers, regular weeding and avoiding intercropping suckers with tall plants. The fungus Sclerotium rolfsii may cause diseases of root, corm and pseudostem. Fungicidal dips would be an appropriate method for controlling fungal root pathogens. Root lesion nematodes (Pratylenchus goodeyi) and root knot nematodes (Meloidogyne sp.) are commonly found and are widely distributed. Pratylenchus goodeyi in particular, is often found associated in large numbers with bacterial-wilt affected plants and is therefore suspected to play a role in the development and severity of the latter disease. Root nematode control includes crop rotation.

Insects such as spider mites, leafhoppers, aphids and mealy bugs are a serious problem in enset cultivation. Porcupines, mole rats and wild pigs will eat enset corms and pseudostems. Farmers use woven fences and ditches as protection around enset fields, and use traps to catch the animals.


The optimal harvesting time of enset for the preparation of kocho is soon after the appearance of the inflorescence. Enset harvested too young has a low starch content; if harvesting is delayed until flowering, vegetative growth ceases, leaves die, and the inflorescence starts to use up the starch produced. Harvesting involves removing the whole plant, removing the leaf sheaths from the pseudostem and separating the corm. Plants are harvested earlier for the production of amicho.


The yield of Ensete ventricosum products is determined by the type of landrace grown, climatic factors, soil fertility, the time to maturity, the methods of processing and the length of the fermentation period. The fresh yield of kocho is 16–42 kg/plant or 12–25 t/ha/year. The fibre yield of enset has been estimated at 500 g per plant.

Handling after harvest

After harvesting, the leaf sheaths of pseudostems are cut into pieces of 1–1.5 m long, and the soft parenchymatous pulp is scraped off from the leaf sheaths. The remainder may be cleaned and dried for fibre production. The corm and basal part of the stem are grated and mixed with the pulp scraped from the leaf sheaths. This mixture is placed in a pit of about 1 m in diameter and 1 m deep, carefully lined with enset leaves. The pit is sealed by covering it with leaves, which are weighed down with heavy stones. The mixture is then left to ferment for a period of several months. Once every 2–4 weeks the pit is reopened, the content is rearranged and the pit is covered with fresh enset leaves. The fermentation is initiated by the bacteria Leuconostoc mesenteroides and to a lesser extent Streptococcus faecalis. This lowers the pH from 6.5 to 5.6. During this period a rancid odour is sometimes present due to Clostridium spp. After about 2 weeks Lactobacillus coryneformis and Lactobacillus plantarum continue the fermentation and further lower the pH to 4.2. The product is ready for consumption after 2–4 months but can also be kept for one year or more, provided it is kept under anaerobic conditions. If kocho is exposed to air it spoils quickly due to various moulds causing softness, sliminess and discolouration. For extended periods of storage, it may be necessary to shift the material from one pit to another so that the surrounding enset leaves can be renewed. Fresh enset is not much liked, but in times of shortage of fermented enset a small amount of fermented enset can be mixed with unfermented enset in order to give the desired taste.

Bulla is prepared by kneading fresh unfermented kocho and squeezing out the liquid, which is rich in starch. The liquid is collected and the starch is left to settle. The liquid is then discarded and the bulla is left to dry and fermented in a way similar to kocho.

Genetic resources

There are many enset landraces. Among the Hadiya ethnic group only, more than 47 enset landraces were identified, including special types with medicinal properties or good fibre yield. Each vernacular name represents a morphologically different enset landrace. Different language groups may have different names for the same landrace making it difficult to identify landraces. Important landraces in Hadiya are: ‘Gimbo’, ‘Sapara’ and ‘Siskela’; in Sidama: ‘Midasho’, ‘Genticha’ and ‘Gulumo’; in Wolaita: ‘Ankogena’, ‘Kucha’ and ‘Alagena’. As there has been genetic erosion due to drought, diseases and expansion of settlement areas, nationwide collection, evaluation, characterization and conservation of enset genetic material has been started by the Ethiopian Institute of Biodiversity Conservation and Research in Addis Ababa and Debub University in Awassa


Major breeding objectives of Ensete ventricosum are tolerance to bacterial wilt, and obtaining landraces or clones that produce an edible corm of good taste, high nutritional value and early maturity. The selection of landraces for lowland enset cultivation is being given major attention.


Because of its tolerance to relatively prolonged soil moisture stress, its multipurpose use and its comparatively high yield, Ensete ventricosum has attracted the attention of farmers, researchers and policy makers. As a result, enset is now one of the important crops receiving government funding for research, and its cultivation is being expanded to other parts of Ethiopia. A future interest from other African countries is anticipated. There is also an increasing demand in other parts of the world for the use of enset for ornamental purposes.

Major references

  • Baker, R.E.D. & Simmonds, N.W., 1953. The genus Ensete in Africa. Kew Bulletin 8: 405–416, with a correction in Kew Bulletin 8: 574 (published in 1954).
  • Bezuneh, T., 1971. The germination and seedling development of Ensete spp. East African Agricultural and Forestry Journal 37(2): 159–166.
  • Bezuneh, T., 1984. Evaluation of some Ensete ventricosum clones for food yield with emphasis on the effect of length of fermentation on carbohydrate and calcium content. Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad 61(2): 111–116.
  • CSA (Central Statistical Authority), 1997. Enset sample survey results. Central Statistical Authority (CSA), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 106 pp.
  • Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI), 1997. Food composition table for use in Ethiopia, part 3. Ethiopian Health and Nutrition Research Institute (EHNRI), Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 34 pp.
  • Pijls, L.T.J., Timmer, A.A.M, Wolde-Gebriel, Z. & West, C.E., 1995. Cultivation, preparation and consumption of ensete (Ensete ventricosum) in Ethiopia. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture 67: 1–11.
  • Quimio, A.J. & Tessera, M., 1996. Diseases of enset. In: Abate, T., Hiebsch, C., Brandt, S.A. & Gebremariam, S. (Editors). Enset-based sustainable agriculture in Ethiopia. Proceedings of the international workshop on enset held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 13–20 December 1993. Institute of Agricultural Research, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. pp. 188–203.
  • Tsegaye, A. & Struik, P.C., 2000. Research supporting the genetic diversity of enset in southern Ethiopia. In: Almekinders, C. & Boef, W. (Editors). Encouraging diversity. The conservation and development of plant genetic resources. Intermediate Technology Publications, London, United Kingdom. pp. 245–249.
  • Tsegaye, A. & Struik, P.C., 2000. Influence of repetitive transplanting and leaf pruning on dry matter and food production of enset (Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman). Field Crops Research 68: 61–74.
  • Uloro, Y. & Mengel, K., 1994. Response of ensete (Ensete ventricosum W.) to mineral fertilisers in south west Ethiopia. Fertiliser Research 37: 107–113.
  • Westphal, E., 1975. Agricultural systems in Ethiopia. Agricultural Research Reports 826. Centre for Agricultural Publishing and Documentation, Wageningen, Netherlands. 278 pp.

Other references

  • Bezuneh, T. & Felleke, A., 1966. The production and utilization of the genus Ensete in Ethiopia. Economic Botany 20(1): 65–70.
  • Brandt, S.A., Spring, A., Hiebsch, C., Yntiso, G., Tabogie, E., Diro, M., Michael, G.W., Tesfaye, S., McCabe, J.T. & Shigeta, M., 1997. The tree against hunger: Enset-based agricultural systems in Ethiopia. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Awassa Agricultural Research Centre, Kyoto University Centre for African Area Studies and University of Florida. Directorate for International Programs, Washington D.C., United States. 56 pp.
  • Lye, K.A. & Edwards, S., 1997. Musaceae. In: Edwards, S., Mesfin Tadesse, Demissew Sebsebe & Hedberg, I. (Editors). Flora of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Volume 6. Hydrocharitaceae to Arecaceae. The National Herbarium, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Department of Systematic Botany, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden. pp. 317–321.
  • Lock, J.M., 1993. Musaceae. In: Polhill, R.M. (Editor). Flora of Tropical East Africa. A.A. Balkema, Rotterdam, Brookfield. 9 pp.
  • Moore, E.H., 1957. Musa and Ensete. The cultivated bananas. Baileya 175: 189–193.
  • Shack, W.A., 1966. The Gurage, a people of the ensete culture. Oxford University Press, London, United Kingdom. 222 pp.
  • Simmonds, N.W., 1958. Ensete cultivation in the southern highlands of Ethiopia; a review. Tropical Agriculture, Trinidad 35: 302–307.
  • Smeds, H., 1955. The ensete planting culture of eastern Sidamo, Ethiopia. Acta Geographica Helsingfors 13(4): 1–39.
  • Vavilov, N.I. & Rodin, L.E., 1997. Five continents. International Plant Genetic Resource Institute, Rome, Italy. 198 pp.
  • Woldetensaye, A., 1997. The ecology and production of Ensete ventricosum in Ethiopia. Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae, Agraria 78. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden. 31 pp.

Sources of illustration

  • Andersson, L., 1998. Musaceae. In: Kubitzki, K. (Editor). The families and genera of vascular plants. Volume 4. Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, Germany. pp. 296–301.
  • Bruce, J., 1790. Travels to discover the source of the Nile in the years 1768–1773. Volume 5. Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


  • A. Tsegaye, Awassa College of Agriculture, Debub University, P.O. Box 5, Awassa, Ethiopia
  • E. Westphal, Ritzema Bosweg 13, 6706 BB Wageningen, Netherlands

Correct citation of this article

Tsegaye, A. & Westphal, E., 2002. Ensete ventricosum (Welw.) Cheesman. [Internet] Record from PROTA4U. Oyen, L.P.A. & Lemmens, R.H.M.J. (Editors). PROTA (Plant Resources of Tropical Africa / Ressources végétales de l’Afrique tropicale), Wageningen, Netherlands. <http://www.prota4u.org/search.asp>.

Accessed 8 July 2021.