Plant 57

Musa textilis Née (Musaceae)


Manila hemp


Bananas, although tree-like in outward appearance and scale, are in fact herbaceous plants. The 'trunk' is indeed a pseudo-stem, composed of lightweight leaf stems (petioles) wrapped around each other, supporting some of the largest leaves in the plant kingdom. The petioles are not circular in cross-section like many other petioles, but rather have a hollow U-shape.

The internal structure of the Manila hemp has been much studied. There are longitudinal vascular bundles providing structural support as in many other monocotyledonous plants. It differs however, in having large air channels that are separated by narrow partitions, which are jointed at intervals by transverse, stellate parenchyma plates. The internal structure is therefore best described as semi-hollow, whereas palms and sedges are solid and grasses hollow. Overall, there is an ordered structure of longitudinal and transverse components.

The economic importance of this particular banana species is extremely significant. With inedible fruit, this plant is not grown for food production, but rather for material production. It is grown today as a commercial crop in the Philippines, from where it originates; average annual production is over 65 million tonnes and accounts for 85% of the world's total production. The other main producer of this important crop is Ecuador.

Manila hemp is grown for the high-quality fibre that is extracted from its petioles. The fibre is renowned for its buoyancy, resistance to saltwater damage and mechanical strength; it is the strongest of all natural fibres. After the opening of the port of Manila in 1834, the Americans became the biggest importer of Manila hemp. The fibre was made into rope and this rope became renowned in the shipping industry. The fibre can also be pulped and the pulp is incorporated into many specialised paper products including tea bags, filter paper and banknotes. Japan's yen banknotes contain up to 30% Manila hemp. Today, the Manila hemp industry has set quality standards. There are numerous grades and types of Manila hemp that have a wide range of uses from the traditional cordage products to fibre-crafts and hand-woven fabrics.

The fibre itself is composed of long, thin cells that are part of the leaf's internal structure. The chemical composition of the fibre is complex, but lignin - a mechanical polymer - constitutes over 13%. The remainder includes free sterols, fatty acids, steroid ketones and triglycerides.

Remember though not to confuse Manila hemp with true hemp - the common name for Cannabis sativa.

Ennos AR et al 2000. The functional morphology of the petioles of the banana, Musa textilis. Journal of Experimental Biology 51: 2085-2093.

FAO (2014) Natural fibres: Abaca. FAO

Sievert EP 2009. The story of abaca: manila hemp's transformation from textile to marine cordage and specialty paper. The Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Alison Foster

The 25th July 2021 marks 400 years of botanical research and teaching by the University of Oxford.

As a celebration and count-down to this anniversary, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Harcourt Arboretum, together with the Oxford University Herbaria and the Department of Plant Sciences, will highlight 400 plants of scientific and cultural significance. One plant will be profiled weekly, and illustrated with images from Oxford University's living and preserved collections.

  • Plant 56: Piper nigrum
  • Plant 55: Viscum album
  • Plant 54: Dieffenbachia seguine
  • Plant 53: Salvinia molesta
  • Plant 52: Saccharum officinarum
  • Plant 51: Metasequoia glyptostroboides
  • Plant 50: Equisetum sp.
  • Plant 49: Fraxinus excelsior
  • Plant 48: Rosmarinus officinalis
  • Plant 47: Ptelea trifoliata
  • Plant 46: Acer saccharum
  • Plant 45: Brassica oleracea
  • Plant 44: Helianthus annuus
  • Plant 43: Ricinus communis
  • Plant 42: Simmondsia chinensis
  • Plant 41: Chara sp.
  • Plant 40: Zingiber officinale
  • Plant 39: Aristolochia clematitis
  • Plant 38: Allium cepa
  • Plant 37: Galium tricornutum
  • Plant 36: Artemisia annua
  • Plant 35: Rosa canina
  • Plant 34: Nepenthes rajah
  • Plant 33: Dianthus caryophyllus x barbatus
  • Plant 32: Taraxacum sp.
  • Plant 31: Victoria cruziana
  • Plant 30: Lathyrus odoratus
  • Plant 29: Heliconia rostrata
  • Plant 28: Senecio squalidus
  • Plant 27: Paulownia tomentosa
  • Plant 26: Urtica dioica
  • Plant 25: Euphorbia characias
  • Plant 24: Heliamphora nutans
  • Plant 23: Laurus nobilis
  • Plant 22: Tulipa sylvestris
  • Plant 21: Pleurococcus sp.
  • Plant 20: Gleditsia triacanthos
  • Plant 19: Tillandsia usneoides
  • Plant 18: Marchantia polymorpha
  • Plant 17: Daphne mezereum
  • Plant 16: Citrus medica
  • Plant 15: Coffea arabica
  • Plant 14: Gossypium species
  • Plant 13: Stachyurus praecox
  • Plant 12: Encephalartos ferox
  • Plant 11: Aloe vera
  • Plant 10: Araucaria angustifolia
  • Plant 9: Isoetes echinospora
  • Plant 8: Hamamelis virginiana
  • Plant 7: Lithops species
  • Plant 6: Sequoiadendron giganteum
  • Plant 5: Commiphora saxicola
  • Plant 4: Buxus sempervirens
  • Plant 3: Picea abies
  • Plant 2: Cinnamomum verum
  • Plant 1: Taxus baccata

  • Follow us on Twitter @Plants400

    The data and images available on this site may only be used for scientific purposes. They may not be sold or used for commercial purposes. All images are copyright of the University of Oxford, unless otherwise indicated.

    The specimens at the Oxford herbaria and the living collections of the Oxford Botanic Garden and Oxford University Herbaria are being digitized using BRAHMS.


    Dr Alison Foster (

    Dr Stephen Harris (

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