Musa livingstoniana

Musa livingstoniana
J. Kirk, Journal of the Linnean Society 9: 128 (1867).

Accepted name Ensete livingstonianum (J. Kirk) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 101 (1947)
Authorities The authority for rejecting the species is Baker & Simmonds 1953.

The synonym is from Cheesman 1947a.

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons lists Musa livingstoniana J.Kirk, J. Linn. Soc., Bot. 9: 128 (1867) as a synonym and Ensete livingstonianum (J.Kirk) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 101 (1947 publ. 1948) as an accepted name.

Distribution south-east Tropical Africa - Mozambique-Malawi (Lake Nyassa region).
Description Stem conical, twice the height of a man, 2 - 3 ft. in diam. at the base. Leaves narrow oblong, crowded, as long as the trunk, with bright red sap. Petioles short, broad-clasping, deeply channelled, red. Fruits 4 in. long. Seeds many, comparatively small, globose, angled by pressure in the lower half, tubercled, 1/3 in. diameter, dull brown, hilum depressed and surrounded by prominent edges

(Kirk 1867, Baker 1893, Williamson 1955).
References Akoègninou et al (eds.) 2006, Baker 1893: 207, Baker 1894a: 241, Baker 1898: 330, Baker & Simmonds 1953: 408, Burkill 1935, Champion 1967: 41, Cheesman 1947a: 101, De Wildeman 1912, Fawcett 1913: 275, Foskett 1965: 606, GRIN, Kirk 1867, Lebrun & Stork 1995, Lock 1993, RHS 1956, Rossel 1998: 92, Sagot 1887 : 328, Williamson 1955.
Comments Following Akoègninou et al (eds.) 2006 [not seen] the name Ensete livingstonianum has been revived.  The text here needs rewriting as a result.

This was one of a number of African Musa transferred to Ensete by Cheesman in his 1947 paper reviving the genus Ensete. It is now recognised that there are no wild Musa native to Africa, only Ensete. Baker and Simmonds 1953 however reject the name Musa livingstoniana as nomen confusum and the story of the plant is indeed somewhat confused.

The original description of M. livingstoniana was based "only from Sir John Kirk's sketches and notes, and seeds which he brought home" from Mozambique (Gorongozo) and Malawi (Lake Shirwa) (Baker, 1893 1894a, 1898) when, in around 1858, he was a member of Dr. Livingstone's second expedition (Foskett 1965, Rossel 1998).

Fresh seeds of the species were later collected by Buchanan and Mahon in Malawi (Zomba) and grown at Kew (Baker 1898: 330). Seeds from Kew, presumably from Buchan and Mahon's collection, were also sent to the Jardin des Plantes in Marseille in 1887 (De Wildeman 1912). In cultivation the plant was noted to have bright red sap in its leaves .

One might have thought that having been grown at Kew and Marseilles that the species would have been reasonably well characterised but apparently not. Without referring at all to the plants seemingly cultivated from it, Baker & Simmonds regard Mahon's material as the type (a packet of seeds collected from the ground by J. Mahon at Zomba, Nyasaland [now Malawi] in the Herbarium RBG Kew). Baker & Simmonds do not say why they do not regard Kirk's seed as the type unless it has perhaps been lost. This may also explain Cheesman's somewhat cryptic comment that "the seeds of this species are described as "tubercled"; but I have examined what appears to be authenticated material at Kew and the "tubercles" are very obscure, certainly not prominent enough to conflict with the generic description of Ensete seeds as "smooth".

Mahon's seed, say Baker & Simmonds, matches Ensete gilletii but the description (they don' say whether they mean Mahon's or Kirk's) could only refer to Ensete edule [= E. ventricosum]. Sir John Kirk does indeed comment that "in habit [Musa livingstoniana] is indistinguishable from Musa Ensete [= E. ventricosum] native of the same region", i.e. the mountains of equatorial Africa. And the distribution of E. ventricosum and E. gilletii (Champion 1967, map facing p. 10), and the variation in seed size observed in E. ventricosum (Baker & Simmonds 1953: 409-410), also reinforce the suggestion that we are dealing here with E. ventricosum. Champion himself (1967: 41) citing Simmonds 1953 (sic), gives Ensete gilletii as the accepted name but the citation is definitely and his interpretation is apparently not correct on this occasion.

For a nomen confusum the plant does appear to have been reasonably well known for a time and must have been quite widely cultivated. Burkill discusses Musa livingstoniana as a potential commercial source of fibres. The RHS Dictionary (2nd edition, 1956) mentions the plant. Conversely, Musa livingstoniana is not mentioned in Lock 1993 presumably falling just outside the range of that flora.

It is rather a shame that a plant commemorating the great African explorer David Livingstone and named for him by one of his most trusted and able lieutenants should be consigned to the taxonomic ignominy of nomen confusum.

Type: J. Mahon, Zomba, Nyasaland (in Herb. Kew)

home     next          Compiled partly with information from Gerda Rossel

last updated 01/05/2008