Plantain suckers are separated from their mother plant with a spade or machete. The sucker corm must not be damaged or chipped. Consequently the corm should be carefully peeled with a machete. The pseudo stem of the suckers should be cut off a few centimeters above the corm.
Peeling of the corm delays the development of nematode infestation, while cutting of the pseudo stem reduces bulkiness and improves early growth of the newly planted sucker. The peeling process is just like that for cassava.
A freshly peeled healthy corm ought to look white, but corms infected by stem borers and nematodes show brown and black spots which have to be removed until only white tissue remains.
If the infestation is severe, with many brown and black spots, the sucker should be destroyed. Sucker preparation (peeling) is carried out in the field where the planting material is collected.
This is to avoid contamination of the new field with roots infested with nematodes or corms with stem borers. Prepared corms are transported to their destination where they are left to dry for a few days (not in the sun). Suckers have to be planted within two weeks. Storage of suckers for more than 2 weeks will adversely affect future yields.
Meanwhile, a sucker is a shoot that develops from a lateral bud on the rhizome and emerges from the soil usually near the parent plant. It is a form of asexual, or vegetative, reproduction, that makes the banana plant perennial. There are various local names for suckers, including keiki (in Hawaii) and pup (mostly used in the American garden nursery industry).
Suckers emerge and ensure a more or less continuous supply of shoots, each capable of producing an inflorescence. They have been used as planting material since the early days of domestication by severing them from the mat and transplanting them to a new location.
Both wild species of plantains or bananas and cultivated plantains or bananas produce suckers. The horticultural term for the clump of shoots and the rhizome through which they are interconnected is a mat. The botanical term for a mat is genet and for the above-ground ground shoots is ramet.
Types of Plantain and Banana Suckers
The sucker appears above the soil and its state is characterised in part by its appearance. Initially, suckers have only leaf sheaths without a midrib or lamina. In horticultural terminology they are called peeper suckers. Some remain at this stage without further growth. Others continue to grow and produce leaves with a midrib and a very narrow lamina.
They are then called sword suckers. Sword suckers gradually produce leaves whose laminae are broad and of the adult form (see photo). The sucker selected to replace the parent plant is called the follower or ratoon. Sometimes, ratoon suckers that have not fruited are referred to as maiden suckers, although this term is poorly defined, and it can be difficult to determine whether a sucker at this stage is vegetative or contains an unemerged bunch.
Lateral buds may survive on sections of the rhizome after the aerial stems of earlier generations have decayed. Suckers that arise from these lateral buds usually have a small rhizome and broad leaves. They are called water suckers and their connection to the rhizome is often structurally weak.
For this reason, water suckers are not suitable for selection as a ratoon to continue the life of the mat into the next generation. However, water suckers can still be a source of planting material to establish a new plantation. Oppenheimer and Gottreich compared sword and water suckers, excised from the parent plant and of equivalent height at planting. For plants that flowered at the same time, bunches from sword suckers and water suckers were of a similar size.
An excess of suckers can lead to reduced bunch weight, especially in ratoon crops. The number of suckers that are allowed to develop and mature is managed by pruning (desuckering).
Considerations such as the evenness of the crop and the position of the sucker in relation to the direction of the row and in relation to the bunch on the parent plant influence the selection of the follower in commercial plantations of Cavendish cultivars. Suckers can also be managed to time harvesting to meet market demands.