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Banana Fusarium wilt (176) Print Fact Sheet

Common Name

Panama disease of banana, Fusarium wilt of banana.

Scientific Name

Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense


Worldwide. Fusarium wilt probably originated in Southeast Asia, but was first reported from Australia in 1876. Subsequently, it spread globally and is present in most parts of Asia, Africa and the Americas. It is now spreading in Pacific islands, and is present in Guam, Papua New Guinea and Tonga.This strain is Race 1. Importantly, it does not attack the Cavendish variety.

However, in recent years an aggressive Tropical race 4, or TR4 as it is called, has appeared which attacks the Cavendish variety, and this has caused great concern. The new strain was first detected in Asia in the 1990s, and until recently it was found only in Taiwan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, China and northern Australia. Since 2010, outbreaks have been reported from Africa (Mozambique), the Middle East (Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman), additional countries of Southeast and South Asia (India, Laos, Myanmar, Pakistan), and Australia (Queensland). In 2019, Fusarium TR4 was detected in Colombia, the first time it has been reported in South America.


Musa and Heliconia species.

Symptoms & Life Cycle

There are four distinct races of this fungus, and one is divided into two strains. TR4 is the most serious as it affects a large number of varieties, including the popular Cavendish.

The fungus invades bananas through the fine (hair) roots, travelling through the roots and stem in the xylem or water-conducting tissues. Spores are produced, and these and the growth of the fungus block the flow of water and cause a wilt. Another type of spore, a chlamydospore, is produced in the soil; this is thick walled and allows the fungus to survive when there is no host to infect.

The first sign is a yellowing at the margins of older leaves, advancing towards the midrib (Photo 1). Leaves turn brown, dry, and eventually collapse. Disease symptoms move progressively from older to younger leaves until only a few of the youngest leaves remain green and erect, with the older ones forming a 'skirt' around the stem (Photo 2). Eventually, all the leaves collapse. On some varieties the stems split.

Internally, brown, red and yellow rings occur in the stem, at first at the centre and later, in cases of severe infection, spreading throughout the stem (Photo 3). Suckers may also show symptoms. Eventually, all parts above and below ground will die and rot.

Spread of Fusarium wilt over short distances is by root-to-root contact, in surface run-off water, in soil attached to vehicles, tools, footwear, animals, and in unsterilIsed potting composts. Apparently, Fusarium wilt does not spread in soil by fungal growth. Over longer distances, spread occurs both within and between countries in infected planting material. However, the involvement of wind carrying spores or contaminated dust particles is sill to be clarified.

Fusarium wilt can remain alive in soil for long periods, perhaps indefinitely, as resistant spores (called 'chlamydospores'), in infested plant debris or in the roots of weeds that are hosts.


In the 1950s, Race 1 forced the banana export industry to change from Gros Michel to Cavendish when Fusarium wilt decimated production. Other races have appeared since then. It is estimated that 80% of global production is now under threat from TR4, which, if it spreads to Latin America, the Caribbean and West Africa, will have dire social and economic consequences. Not only will it devastate production, but also the livelihoods and food security of millions of smallholders who grow more than 85% of the crop. Additionally, there are potential environmental and biodiversity impacts as uncontaminated land would be cleared for cultivation, and difficult-to-grow varieties abandoned.

Detection & Inspection

Look for leaves which turn yellow, beginning at the margins and, later, turn brown and dry out. Look for plants were leaves have collapsed and form a skirt around the stem. Look for dark brown to black discolouration of the water-conducting tissues whenthe stem is cut near ground level.


Management of Fusarium wilt is extremely difficult as the fungus remains alive in the soil for many years, and there are no fungicides or cultural controls that can be usefully applied against it. The only solutions are to: (i) keep it out in the first place; (ii) establish methods for early detection; (iii) observe strict hygiene measures; and (iv) use resistant varieties.

The following advice applies to all strains of Fusarium wilt disease. However, such is the threat from TR4 that national and regional biosecurity authorities need to ensure that the fungus does not spread further in the world but, should a new introduction occur, have the necessary authority to apply quarantine regulations to limit its impact. Transfers of varieties between countries should follow the FAO/IBPGR Technical Guidelines for the Safe Movement of Germplasm. No. 15. Musa. 2nd Edition, (

A Panama disease tropical race 4 Grower Kit is avaialbe from the Queensland Governmenrt publications (

Cultural control measures should be implemented to contain outbreaks once they have occurred.

Before planting:

During growth:

Cavendish is resistanct to Race1. Tolerant and resistant varieties do exist to TR4. Some FHIA (Honduran Agricultural Research Foundation) varieties (e.g., 01, 02, 18, and 25) have resistance to TR4, and, in Taiwan, Cavendish variants from tissue culture have shown resistance. Check whether these are available locally.

This is not a method that can be used against this soilborne disease.

AUTHOR Grahame Jackson
Infomration (and Photos 1&2) Diseases of fruit crops in Australia (2009). Editors, Tony Cooke, Denis Persley, Susan House. CSIRO Publishing; and CABI (2015) Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense (Panama disease of banana) Crop Protection Compendium. (; and Panama disease tropical race 4 (TR4). Business Queensland. Queensland Government. (; and from Dita M et al. (2018) Fusarium wilt of banana: current knowledge on epidemiology and research needs toward sutainable disease management. Frontiers in Plant Science. ( Photo 3 Department of Agriculture and fisheries, Queenland, Australia.

Produced with support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research under project PC/2010/090: Strengthening integrated crop management research in the Pacific Islands in support of sustainable intensification of high-value crop production, implemented by the University of Queensland and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community.

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