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Enset, Ethiopia’s magnificent ‘Tree Against Hunger’ blossoms at Kew Gardens for the first time


A small house in Ethiopia completely surrounded by vegetation. Scientists studying this remarkable plant have identified it as a “climate adaptation strategy” in parts of the country that are prone to drought. Credit: James Burrell, RPGQ

Enset (Ensete ventricosum), an African relative of the much-loved banana plant, is blooming inside Kew Gardens’ temperate home, marking the first time this unusual plant has produced a bloom in the botanical garden. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew scholars and visiting horticulturists are now encouraging them to hurry up and see the plant in bloom, as due to its monoecious nature, the plant will only flower once and die.

Known by some as the Ethiopian banana, the Abyssinian banana, or even the false banana, RBG Kew scientists and associates refer to the aniseate as the “tree against hunger.” With its remarkable versatility, drought resistance, and disease tolerance, Enet is an essential source of nutrition for more than 20 million people in Ethiopia.

They grow up to ten meters high, and as few as 15 plants can feed a person for an entire year, often supporting diets during periods of drought or when other crops fail. In fact, a recent study published by RBG Kew scientists and partners, identified this as a “climate adaptation strategy” in drought-prone regions of Ethiopia.

According to research, Ethiopian smallholder farmers are choosing to plant more plants directly in response to drought. Research at RBG Kew has also revealed the amazing genetic diversity of the species with the potential to enhance food security and feed millions of people across the region.

However, despite its hunger-curing properties, you won’t want to eat the adorable banana-like fruit. It is filled with large black seeds that make it almost inedible. Instead, farmers consume the plant’s giant false stem and corm underground, skimming these parts into a starchy pulp that’s fermented in a pit for up to 12 months, before processing it into a bread-like food called kocho.

Enset, the wonderful flowers of Ethiopia

Dr James Burrell stands next to a younger Insight plant after it was put on display at Temperate House in Kew Gardens, west London, the world’s largest surviving Victorian glass house. Credit: James Burrell, RPGQ

Dr James Burrell, Research Lead in Trait and Function Diversity at Kew, says, “Not many people have heard of those in Ethiopia and that is unfortunate because this truly remarkable plant is a vital source of nutrition for millions of subsistence farmers across the region.” Enset has a unique range. Characteristics that set them apart from other familiar crops; and most importantly, they are perennial and can be planted and harvested at any time.As a result, farmers can treat these crops as “green assets” to prevent food shortages when other crops are disrupted or otherwise unavailable. , like a food bank account.It is not surprising, then, that Ethiopians often refer to the “tree against hunger”.

The flowering group is one of two specimens of E. ventricosum that arrived at Kew Nurseries in 2019, just 30cm tall. Before planting in an iconic temperate house, horticulturists at Kew nursed the related species E. superbum, which blossomed inside the conservatory in 1991.

Previously, the living kew populations also included the species E. lecongetti and E. livingstonianum, the latter native from tropical West Africa to Malawi.

Enset, the wonderful flowers of Ethiopia

One of two flowering plants (Ensete ventricosum) in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in London has produced an impressive bloom. However, once the flowering period is over, the monocarpic plant will die and must be replaced with a new specimen. Credit: Sebastian Keightley, RPGQ

Horticulturists at Kew Insight introduced the southern octagon to Temperate House in 2020 once it reached 1.5 meters in height. However, after only a year, the plant was large enough to be moved to permanent display in the Southern Beds where it has remained ever since. Today, both lanceolate plants dominate their immediate surroundings with a large canopy of leaves towering over the heads of visitors.

As with all monocotyledonous plants, the clump will die back once the flowering period is over. However, a healthy specimen will be selected as its replacement to keep the supply going.

Temperate house superintendent David Cooke says, “The group arrived at Kew in 2019, measuring no more than 30cm in height – pretty much a baby compared to the impressive plant we see in a temperate home today.” He was looked after by expert gardeners at Kew in the lower nurseries before they are mature enough to find a permanent home inside the historic conservatory. Seeing the flower in flower now is a sad reminder that time with us is coming to an end but also a testament to the amazing work of our horticulturists and scientists learning more about the natural world and protecting the biodiversity of this planet.” .

Courtesy of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

the quote: Enset, Ethiopia’s Magnificent Flowers ‘Against Hunger’ at Kew Gardens for the first time (2023, 13 April) Retrieved 13 April 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-enset-ethiopia-remarkable- tree-hunger. html

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