Musa sumatrana

Musa sumatrana
O. Beccari,
Cat. Hort. Flor. II : 4 (date?).
Musa sumatrana O. Beccari ex E-F. André, L'Illustration Horticole N. S. 27 : 37 t. 375 (1880).
Musa sumatrana J. G. Baker, Ann. Bot. 7 : 219 (1893).
Musa sumatrana H. N. Ridley, Kew Bulletin : 90 (1926).

Accepted name Musa acuminata L. A. Colla subsp. sumatrana (O. Beccari) A. N. Other
Authorities The above provisional.  Hotta mentions
Section Eumusa
Description "Whole plant 7 - 8 ft. long.  Stem slender, cylindrical.  Leaves oblong. 5 - 6 ft. long, 1˝ ft. broad, glaucous, with irregular blotches of claret-brown, rounded at the base ; petiole slender, a foot long.  Peduncle hairy.  Panicle more or less drooping ; male flowers deciduous ; upper spathes small, orbicular, densely imbricated (colour not known) ; fertile portion consisting of about six clusters of four fruits each spaced out on a flexuose rachis above a foot long.  Flowers an inch long.  Calyx 5-toothed at the apex ; petal linear, obtuse, nearly as long as the calyx.  Dried fruits cylindrical, curved, 2 - 3 in. long, ˝ in. diam., narrowed suddenly to a slender stipe ˝ to 1 in. long".

(Baker 1893).

"Whole plant 7 - 8 ft. high : st. slender : lvs. 5 - 6 ft. long, 1˝ ft. wide, glaucous, with irregular blotches of claret-brown ; petiole 1 ft. long ; rachis pubescent : spike more or less drooping ; lower bracts distant : fr. dry, cylindrical, curved, 2 - 3 in. long, ˝ in. diam. Sumatra, 1,100 ft. altitude. [ ] (as M. zebrina, probably a young form of this species, and is very decorative) (sic)".

(Ricker 1937).

"Slender, about 7 ft. h. l. about 5˝ ft. long, 18 in. wide. infl. more or less drooping. fr. 4, cylindrical, curved. Sumatra".

(RHS 1956).

References Baker 1893 : 219, Cheesman 1948b : 25, Graf Exotica, Griffiths 1994, Hotta 1989 : 70, Huxley 1992Moore 1957 : 189, RHS 1956, Ricker 1937.
Comments I am not sure whether Beccari described his plant but it is pictured in L'Illustration Horticole in 1880.  This shows "a young plant with the purple-barred leaves of the extremely pigmented form of M. zebrina [ ] pictured in Flore des Serres" in 1854-5 (Cheesman 1948b).   Baker's 1893 and Ridley's 1926 treatments of M. sumatrana are very confusing.  Baker seems to conflate a description of dubious material from India and puts the plant in section Rhodochlamys.  Ridley's description of the floral characters is muddled and at odds with the herbarium specimen he purports to describe.

Cheesman, concluded his comments on the plant merely by wondering whether " "M. sumatrana" in the literature covers one, two or three plants".

That Cheesman came to no firm conclusion on Musa sumatrana is presumably the cause of continuing confusion in the horticultural literature.  Moore in 1957 did not know what to do with it and hoped that "a recent discovery of bananas on Sumatra may soon provide the final evidence for the disposition of this species".   I am not sure to whose work he was referring.  It isn't Simmonds.  In 1954 - 55 Simmonds undertook an extensive banana collecting expedition but did not visit Indonesia.  In his 1956 paper reporting the botanical results of his expedition Simmonds defined 5 Musa acuminata subspecies and speculated about the existance of 4 or 5 more.  But Simmonds made no mention of M. sumatrana and its likely position in that pantheon.

Recent RHS publications continue the tradition of confusion started by Baker.  This plant is not in Huxley 1992 but in Griffiths 1994 is given as the 'Blood Banana'.   Griffiths seems to give Musa acuminata 'Sumatrana' (implying a cultivar) as the correct name of Musa zebrina van Houtte ex Planchon.  However, he gives no cross reference under Musa acuminata to Musa acuminata 'Sumatrana' but only to Musa sumatrana which he writes is possibly included under Musa acuminata.

Whatever its name, this is a very desirable plant from a horticultural viewpoint.  It may well have been introduced into cultivation on a number of occasions, each time a slightly different form being introduced.

According to Graf Exotica Musa sumatrana (from Sumatra) is a smaller and more cold-tolerant plant than Musa zebrina (from Java).

A number of horticultural 'forms' of some of the subspecies seem to be in cultivation.  These tend to be given different names by different nurseries or different literature e.g. 'Sumatrana', 'Zebrina', 'Rubra' and 'Rojo'.  The names are used sometimes as if they were species names.  This is wrong.   The names are used sometimes as if they were cultivar names.  This is also probably wrong in a formal sense because most are probably referable to Musa acuminata subsp. zebrina.  However, some plants may indeed be distinct selections worthy of cultivar status.  Unless and until someone collects all the cultivated 'forms' together in one place and evaluates them side-by-side it is likely not to be possible to determine their true individual status.

I think it is safe to assume that Musa sumatrana comes under Musa acuminata subsp. zebrina by a simple matter of botanical precedence.  The name Musa zebrina dates from 1854/55 whereas Musa sumatrana dates from around 1880.   The "sumatrana" name is still found in horticulture but as applied to a banana appears to have no formal taxonomic status.  The origin of the plant in Java does not

Accepted name Musa acuminata L. A. Colla subsp. zebrina (L. B. van Houtte) A. N. Other
Authorities Synonymy according to Hotta 1989.  Hotta incorrectly gives E. A. Andre as the author, there is no such botanical author.
Section Eumusa
Description Height 2 – 2.5m.   Pseudostems slender, freely suckering, reddish.  Petioles short, leaf lamina deep greyish-green blotched with dark wine-red above and red beneath.
References Moore 1957 : 189.
Comments Harold Moore comments that "Musa sumatrana is another species described from a juvenile plant.  This has strongly purple-barred leaves like the extreme form of M. zebrina (M. acuminata).  Baker and Ridley have attributed added characters to the species from material of dubious origin.  However, a Beccari specimen in the herbarium at Kew has fruit in two series as in M. acuminata and Beccaeri's later remarks, when describing Musa microcarpa, indicate an affinity to M. acuminata".



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last revision 23 April 2003