Ensete wilsonii

Ensete wilsonii
(W. J. Tutcher, Gardeners' Chronicle series 3, 32: 450 [fig. 151: 451] (1902), & Revue Horticole 34 (1903).) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 103 (1947).

Accepted name Ensete glaucum (W. Roxburgh) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 101 (1947).
Synonyms Musa wilsonii W. J. Tutcher, Gardeners' Chronicle series 3, 32: 450 [fig. 151: 451] (1902), & Revue Horticole 34 (1903).
Authorities The authority for the accepted name is Simmonds but see Comments ref. Flora of China.

The synonym is from Cheesman 1947a.
Distribution China (endemic to Yunnan). Wild or cultivated in fertile soil in ravines; near sea level to 2,700 m.

Pseudostem conical, ca. 1.7 m tall (measured to crown of leaves at maturity), 38 - 45 cm in diam. at base, 18 - 20 cm in diam. immediately below basal leaves of crown. Petiole ca. 60 cm, deeply channeled; leaf blade oblong, 3.3 - 4 m 60 - 70 cm, base truncate to slightly cordate, apex acute. Inflorescence ca. 1 m, ca. 38 cm. in diam. at base, 10 - 13 cm in diam. at apex. Bracts green, persistent, proximal ones lanceolate, ca. 30 cm, distal ones ovate, much shorter than proximal ones. Flowers 15 - 20 per bract. Tepals white; compound tepal ca. 5 cm, apex 3-lobed, lobes free or laxly coherent; free tepal short, less than 1/2 as long as compound tepal, apex 3-cuspidate, central cusp linear, large. Berries golden yellow, trigonous clavate, 9 - 11.5 ca. 4 cm, pulpy. Seeds ca. 20, black, 1 - 1.3 cm in diam., angled, slightly wrinkled. Fl. Jun, fr. Oct.

(Flora of China 2000.)

See also Musa wilsonii for a description of the type.

References Champion 1967 : 43, Cheesman 1947a : 103, De Wildeman 1912 : 359, Fawcett 1913 : 266, Lancaster 1989 : 196, Li 1978 : 56, Li 1981, Flora of China, Revue Horticole 1903 : 34, fig. 10., Simmonds 1960 : 208, 212, Tutcher 1902, Wu 1997.
Comments References to this plant in the Chinese literature are very confusing. Some references to Musa wilsonii in literature relating to Hong Kong are actually references to Musa laterita. It is also likely that Flora of China volume 24 is wrong to separate Ensete wilsonii from Ensete glaucum. More to come on this.

Cheesman created Ensete wilsoni as a new combination (number 15 out of 25) in a brief note in his 1947 paper reviving the genus Ensete. Cheesman revived one and created 24 new Ensete species in that paper but acknowledged that field study might reveal synonymy. Although he had not seen authentic specimens Simmonds 1960, with characteristic assurance, considered that Ensete wilsoni differed in no essential respect from Ensete glaucum and reduced it. Wu 1997 on the other hand maintained Ensete wilsonii as the accepted name commenting that "this species was treated by Li (1981) as Musa wilsonii Tutcher. However, a study of the figure and the description in the original publication of M. wilsonii clearly reveals that the species should be placed in Ensete and not Musa. Ensete, including E. wilsonii, differs from Musa in having a sympodial swollen stem base (vs. stoloniferous stem base), a 3-lobed compound tepal (vs. 5-toothed compound tepal), green (vs. colored) bracts, and seeds 1 - 1.3 (vs. less than 0.6) cm in diameter".

On the evidence presented above, Wu Te-lin's maintenance of Ensete wilsonii as a species distinct from Ensete glaucum seems rather uncritical. However, in Flora of China the botanical differences between Ensete glaucum and Ensete wilsonii are specified as follows:

Ensete glaucum - Pseudostem to 5 m (measured to crown of leaves at maturity); leaf blade 1.4 - 1.8 m, base cuneate; compound tepal ca. 2.5 cm; fruit obovoid-oblong; seeds smooth.

Ensete wilsonii - Pseudostem ca. 1.7 m (measured to crown of leaves at maturity); leaf blade ca. 3.3 m, base slightly cordate to truncate; compound tepal ca. 5 cm; fruit trigonous clavate; seeds slightly wrinkled.

Neither Wu Te-lin nor Flora of China comment on Simmonds' contention that this plant is Ensete glaucum.

Flora of China volume 24 does not present a convincing case for the separation of Ensete wilsonii from Ensete glaucum and is very likely wrong.
More to come on this.

The use of the word "sympodial" by Wu to describe Ensete and its juxtaposition with "stoloniferous" to describe Musa has the potential for confusion. While Musa are sympodial it seems to us that Ensete are better described as comprising a determinate monopodium. There are a few reports of spontaneous suckering in Ensete but this is abnormal behaviour and the induced suckering in Ensete ventricosum do not disqualify this description of Ensete.

Tutcher, Cheesman and Simmonds all use the epithet wilsoni and the plant was named after Ernest "Chinese" Wilson. Modern practice under the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature recommends that an epithet commemorating a person whose name ends in a consonant should have ii added, thus M. wilsonii and E. wilsonii as used by Mobot & Wu.

The occurrence of the plant at high altitude, "below 2,700 m", implies that it should be reasonably cold hardy. The name "Snow Banana" is sometimes applied to it but the source for this name is not known to us. Because of its supposed cold hardiness there have been several attempts to introduce the plant into cultivation via seed. So far (September 2000) these attempts have been unsuccessful. Both E. glaucum and E. wilsonii occur in Yunnan and, although E. wilsonii occurs up to 2,700 m. and E. glaucum only to 1,100 m. there is considerable altitudinal overlap. There is the possibility for confusion of identity in Chinese Ensete seed offered commercially although examination of the leaf base of cultivated plants may perhaps be diagnostic. However, the seed that has been imported into Europe up to now, under the name Musa wilsonii, has been true Musa seed not Ensete seed.


There is one image of Musa wilsoni from Tutcher's original 1902 paper.


last updated 26/10/2007