Silent Killers and Dancing Bananas

What do high blood pressure and Panama Disease have in common?

Both are so-called “silent killers”.


Panama Disease is a silent killer

Silent killers are diseases that cause subtle symptoms, which often go undetected or unnoticed. But, after some time, the diseases may cause serious complications or sometimes death. Death of the poor person with high blood pressure or the banana plant with Panama Disease.

Dancing bananas begin with a sucker

Banana are typically propagated by suckers. These are young plants emerging from the below-ground stem of the banana plant – the corm. Each sucker can be used to start a new banana mat. After the motherplant set fruit, the above plant tissue dies off. The farmer harvests the banana bunch, chops down the motherplant and continues with the surviving sucker. This practise makes the banana plantation move a bit each year. After some time it looks as if the plantation had danced around its original site.

Propagating bananas by suckers is easy and cheap.

But if Panama Disease is around, it’s dangerous. An initial infection of the motherplant by the soil-borne fungal spores will go by unnoticed. In the second season (i.e. with the first sucker) symptoms will be mild – the yield will be a bit lower. In the third season, the yield will be noticeably lower and in the fourth season the plant will start wilting and produce little or no fruits at all.


Panama Disease spreads through suckers

Chances are high that in the meantime the farmer has planted infected suckers at other sites, given them to neighbours or sold them. And so the killer disease silently spreads.

Contaminated planting material was likely caused the recent introduction of Panama Disease to Jordan, Pakistan and Mozambique.

Once Panama Disease is present in a location, it will stay. The fungus produces spores that remain viable in the soil for up to 30 years. This makes it impossible to grow susceptible bananas for decades.

2 thoughts on “Silent Killers and Dancing Bananas

  1. Just a friendly comment about the use of terminology: Fusarium oxysporum (the fungus) spread through suckers not the disease. The disease is the expression of that interaction. I like your blog 🙂


    • Freddy, I am happy that you like my blog! You are absolutely right with your comment! It’s not the disease itself that spreads through suckers, but the fungus. That’s what makes it so deceiving and dangerous. The suckers appear healthy and symptomless. And still… Fusarium is lurking inside.


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