Musa nepalensis

Musa nepalensis N. Wallich, in W. Roxburgh, Flora Indica 2: 490 (1824) and ibid. ed. 2 vol. 1: 669 (1832).

Accepted name Ensete glaucum (W. Roxburgh) E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 2 (2): 101 (1947).
Synonyms 1. Musa glauca W. Roxburgh, Hort. Beng. 19 (1814) (nomen), Corom. Pl. t. 300, 96-98 (1819-1820), Flora Indica 2: 490 (1824) (descr.); ibid. ed. 2, 1: 669 (1832).

2. Musa gigantea C. E. O. Kuntze, Revisio Generum Plantarum 2: 691 (1891).

3. Ensete gigantea (C. E. O. Kuntze) T. Nakai, Bulletin of the Tokyo Science Museum 22: 12 (1948).

4. Ensete nepalensis (N. Wallich) E. E. Cheesman, err. cal. N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 14 (2): 212 (1960).

Authorities The authority for the accepted name is Hara et al 1978.

The synonyms are from:

1. Hara et al 1978
2. Hara et al 1978
2. & 3. from Hotta 1989 (but see comments at Musa gigantea)
4. from Simmonds 1960 not from Cheesman 1947a.

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons lists Musa nepalensis Wall. in W.Roxburgh, Fl. Ind. 2: 492 (1824) as a synonym of Ensete glaucum (Roxb.) Cheesman, Kew Bull. 2: 101 (1947 publ. 1948) which is listed as an accepted name.

Distribution Reported by Wallich 1824 from various parts of Nepal, from Becheaco to the valley, growing on the smaller mountains (in the Khasi hills and on the lower slopes of the Himalayas, according to Sastri 1962: 450).
Description Trunk short, 5 or 6 ft. high, ovoid, 2 ft. in diameter at base. Leaves rather smaller than M. superba, and somewhat glaucous. Panicle at first dense, a foot in diameter, finally drooping ; bracts dull purple, ovate, the lower ft. long ; flowers 7 - 8 to a row. Calyx, petal, fruit and seeds like those of M. superba. Lower hills of Nepal, in dense shaded forests, Wallich. Described principally from two large unpublished drawings of Wallich, now at Kew. Not known in cultivation.

(Baker 1893).
References Baker 1893: 208, Baker 1894b: 261, Cheesman 1947a: 101, Desmond 1991, Fawcett 1921: 275, Graf Exotica (illus.), Hara et al 1978, Ore et al 1992, Hotta 1989, Mobot Tropicos, Moore 1957: 188, Noltie 1994, Reynolds 1927 (illus.), Sagot 1887: 329, Sastri 1962, Schumann 1912: 16, Simmonds 1960: 207, 212, Wallich 1824: 492.
Comments The precise identity of Musa nepalensis N. Wallich, as Cheesman says, "provides a nice problem".

Cheesman 1947a writes that "Wallich [writing presumably in the 1820s or 1830s] described in great detail a plant from Nepal, of which he says : "I am doubtful if this plant ought to be considered as distinct from M. superba, or as an intermediate species between that and M. glauca, differing from the former in the sheathing petioles, and from the latter in its stature and inflorescence. I shall better be able to determine its character when the plants of it, which I brought down with me, and which thrive very well in the Hon[ourable East India] Comp[any's] botanic garden [in Calcutta], shall begin to blossom". It is difficult to square this account with what comes next as Cheesman continues "Baker says of it : "Described principally from two large unpublished drawings of Wallich, now at Kew. Not known in cultivation". Why Baker chose apparently to ignore Wallich's detailed description and base his 1893 description on Wallich's drawings I do not know. But I wonder whether these drawings include one mentioned by Desmond 1991. Desmond notes that Indian artists servicing the Mughal empire sought European patronage when the empire began to disintegrate in the 18th century. The artists had rapidly to adapt their traditional stylised techniques to the naturalistic demands of their new clients but were not always successful. An example quoted by Desmond is as follows:

"A drawing of 'Musa nepalensis', probably Ensete glaucum, incurred the displeasure of one botanist who indignantly scribbled on it: 'Most abominable leaves for which master painter shall be duly cut with reference to his month's wages'."  (but see here).

Either something happened that prevented Wallich from describing the "blossoming" plants in the Honourable East India Company's Calcutta botanic garden or the plants did not thrive as well as Wallich hoped. Either way it seems they were not further described and there is not even a definite record of their ever being in cultivation. Cheesman resumes:

"Kew Bulletin (1894, p. 243) adds an extract from a letter by Dr. King, dated Calcutta, 22nd August 1893 : "I do not believe in the existence of the species Wallich called M. nepalensis. I have never been able to hear of, or find, any specimens of a big non-stoloniferous plantain on the lower slopes of the Himalaya. I have made enquiries in Nepal where Wallich says it grows. Wallich must have described Roxburgh's M. glauca under the name nepalensis".

King's remark cannot be reconciled with some modern floras (e.g. Hara et al 1978 and Noltie 1994) that include Ensete glaucum in the flora of Nepal. What is Ensete glaucum (previously Musa glauca) if not "a big non-stoloniferous plantain on the lower slopes of the Himalaya"? But perhaps King was right after all. Recent enquiries by Ganesh Mani Pradhan in east Nepal and north east India confirm King's comments; no-one has heard of or can find Ensete glaucum in the wild. Wallich's plants remain something of a mystery. However, from Hore et al 1992 it seems that Ensete glaucum does occur in the remote north eastern state of Mizoram.

The identity of Wallich's Musa nepalensis remains a mystery. Wallich gives its vernacular name in Newar Gompo as "kula" but this is no help either, the word is not Nepalese. It may be a corruption of "kera" which is the local word for "banana". Cheesman effectively concludes that Musa nepalensis is nomen dubium and ends his discussion thus:

"If M. nepalensis does exist, it belongs to Ensete ; but it does not seem immediately desirable to cumber the literature with a new combination to name so doubtful an entity."

Despite Cheesman specifically refraining from creating it, the combination Ensete nepalensis (N. Wallich) E. E. Cheesman is quoted twice by Simmonds 1960 (p. 207 and p. 212). This is an unusual slip of the pen by the normally unimpeachable Simmonds, for there is no such combination in Cheesman's work.

Although Musa nepalensis does not exist the name has a nice ring to it and there are indeed records of it in the horticultural literature. For example, there is a photograph labelled Musa nepalensis in Graf's Exotica but this is instead, presumably, a young Ensete glaucum or possibly Musa balbisiana. Graf also mentions having actually seen Musa nepalensis in Nepal. Again he must have seen either Ensete glaucum, in cultivation not wild, or mistaken wild Musa balbisiana for the mythical Musa nepalensis. Moore 1957 commented (p. 188) that "seed purportedly of this species has been listed by one domestic and one foreign source since 1950 but I have not seen living plants".

Type: Wallich s. n. Identity uncertain (Hara et al., 1978: 62-63).


There is an external image of Musa glauca on the RBG Kew Flora Indica website

home     next          Compiled partly with information from Gerda Rossel & Ganesh Mani Pradhan.

last updated 17/10/2008