Ensete superbum

Ensete superbum
(W. Roxburgh, in Hortus Bengalensis 19: 19 (nomen) (1814), and Flora Indica 2: 2 (description) (1824), and Flora Indica ed. 2, 1: 667 (1832)) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 100 (1947).

Accepted name Ensete superbum (W. Roxburgh) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 100 (1947).
Synonyms Musa superba W. Roxburgh, in Hortus Bengalensis 19: 19 (nomen) (1814), and Flora Indica 2: 2 (description) (1824), and Flora Indica ed. 2, 1: 667 (1832).
Authorities The authorities for the accepted name are Cheesman 1947a and Simmonds 1960.

The synonym is from Cheesman 1947a.

Distribution India (Western Ghats: Bombay-Madras, Kotra, Mamer, Jhadol and Ogna Forest Ranges [Udaipur distr., Rajasthan], Deccan, Nasik, Khandesh and Poona districts, Anamalei Mts (North of Cochin and Madura), Matheran Ram Ghat, Khandala, Assam, Dingidul), [Burma and Thailand?].
Description Plant 10 ft. - 12 ft. high and the pseudostem 5 ft. - 6 ft. tall, with an enormous swollen base of 7 ft. - 8 ft. in circumference at the base, narrowed to 3 ft. below the leaves.  The leaves are bright green on both sides, 5 ft. long, 1 ft. broad ; free petiole very short, deeply channelled.  The leaf sheaths are persistent at the base and leave closely set scars on the corm.  The inflorescence is globose at first, 1 ft. in diameter, later drooping and elongating to one third the length of the trunk.  The bracts are orbicular, dark brown-red (dull claret-brown), reaching 1 ft. in length and breadth and subtend dense biseriate rows each of 10 - 15 flowers. Ovary white, cylindrical, above an inch long.  The outer perianth is whitish, as long as the overy and three-lobed or formed of three loosely coherent segments.  The inner perianth  is shorter than the outer, tricuspidate with a long, linear central cusp.   The fruits are subcoriaceous 3 in. long, 1 diameter more or less triangular and contain numerous dark brown seeds.  The seeds are subglobose but angled by pressure, 1/3 - in. in diameter.  The plant dies down to an underground corm in the dry season and forms new leaves at the beginning of the monsoon.

(Baker 1893, 1894 a & 1906, Mahabale 1981, Sharma 1996).

References Argent 1984, Baker 1893: 207-208, Baker 1894a: 242 & 261, Baker 1906: 15, Champion 1967: 11, Cheesman 1947a: 100, De Wildeman 1912: 355, Dutta et al 1968Fawcett 1913: 276, Hore et al 1992: 450 Huxley 1992, Griffiths 1994, GRIN, IPGRI, Mahabale 1981: 445-456, Moore 1957: 192, RHS 1956, Roxburgh 1795: t. 223, Roxburgh 1824: 489-490 and 1874: 224, Ryan 1904, Sastri 1962: 450, Schumann 1912 : 14 & 16, Sharma 1996: 322-323, Simmonds 1960: 207, 209, 210, 212, Watt 1908 : 302, Witt 1916: 218.

Ensete superbum is reported as occurring naturally only in India unlike the other Asian Ensete species, Ensete glaucum, which has a very wide distribution.  E. superbum is essentially a plant of the Western Ghats of India but, as noted above, there are sporadic accounts of it elsewhere in the country, possibly in cultivation as an ornamental. 

There are reports of a plant similar to E. superbum in Thailand.  Although there does seem to be at least one distinct and as yet undescribed Ensete in Thailand there is also a possibility that E. superbum has been introduced there as an ornamental.  As early as 1893 Baker noted that E. superbum  was "frequent in cultivation" and it was introduced into the Calcutta Botanic Garden in 1800.   Although the natural range of E. superbum does not appear to overlap with E. glaucum the possibility of hybridisation exists where through introduction they are now sympatric.

In Kerala in the Western Ghats the plant is known locally as "kal vazhai" or "rock banana".  The flesh of the fruit is given to diabetics under ayurvedic practice.  The ground seeds are also used in Ayurveda and cultivation of the plant has recently started in Kerala to supply seed.  The plant is listed as a Famine Food.

Ensete superbum is mis-spelled Ensete superba in the IPGRI entry.

The plant is in cultivation, e.g. at RBG Kew and Toby Spanner has now started to offer seed commercially.


There are 9 images of Ensete superbum.

With acknowledgements to Ganesh Mani Pradhan.


last revision 18 February 2003