One of the most unique crops of Tamil Nadu are the Hill Bananas of Sirumalai and Virupakshi grown extensively in the eastern parts of the Western Ghats and lower Palani hills, Sirumalai and other parts of the Eastern Ghats. The aromatic and delicious Hill Bananas have been grown here for centuries by marginal farmers.
Sirumalai Hill Banana is of great commercial importance and belongs to the pome group genome AAB. This variety of banana is cultivated as a rainfed crop and obtains its characteristic flavour and aroma only when grown in altitudes of 2500 – 3000 feet. This is well-suited as a shade plant and often intercropped with coffee to provide shade to the young coffee trees. Some farmers grow this variety along with timber, fruit trees and pepper to supplement their income.
The well-drained loamy soil rich in organic matter with pH of 5.5 to 6.5 and tropical climatic conditions with annual rainfall of 1500 mm distributed in about 90 days at Sirumalai are conducive for the cultivation of this variety of banana. The season for planting is July – August. The first crop is harvested in about 15 months and subsequent harvests are made every 8 months. The plant life is roughly 6 years.
The banana plant is tall, strong and grows up to a height of about 10 feet. The leaves are long and the ripe fruits are yellow with a thick peel which comes off easily. The fruits have a shelf life of up to 10 days under ambient temperatures and are available throughout the year. The pulp has less moisture content and does not get spoiled even if overripe.
The sugar content is up to 230 brix and sugar to acid ratio is 17:1. The fruits have high medicinal value and aid in easy bowel movement. They are rich in potassium and thereby often suggested as a medicine to treat nervous disorders.
The pleasant aroma and delightful taste of this variety of banana is not an experience one is likely to forget in a hurry. Over the past decades, Hill Bananas have been severely affected by Bunchy top, a devastating viral disease. It has been very difficult for the farmers to combat this disease and at one point, these varieties were on the verge of extinction. However, timely intervention by scientists and Government authorities have managed to contain the disease and new technology is being implemented to protect the trees and increase the area under cultivation and the annual production.
This hill plantain received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2008.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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