Musa sikkimensis

Musa sikkimensis W. S. Kurz, J. Agric. Hort. Soc. Ind. Part 1. 5 (3): 164 (1877) and N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 11 (3): 478 (1956).

Accepted name Musa sikkimensis W. S. Kurz, J. Agric. Hort. Soc. Ind. Part 1. 5 (3): 164 (1877) and N. W. Simmonds, Kew Bulletin 11 (3): 478 (1956).
Synonyms 1. Musa sapientum subsp. seminifera forma hookeri G. King MSS ex J. G. Baker, Ann. Bot. 7: 214 (1893) ; E. E. Cheesman Kew Bulletin 3 (3) : 326 (1948).
2. Musa hookeri G. King MSS ex A. M. Cowan & J. M. Cowan, Trees of North Bengal, 135 (1929).
3. Musa sapientum subsp. seminifera var. hookeri G. King ex K. M. Schumann in A. Engler, Das Pflanzenreich (1912).
4. Musa hookeri (G. King ex K. M. Schumann) A. M. Cowan & J. M. Cowan, Trees of North Bengal, 135 (1929).
Authorities The authorities for the accepted name are Simmonds 1956 and Noltie 1994.

Synonyms 1 & 2 are from Simmonds and 3 & 4 from Noltie; Hajra & Verma give none.

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons gives Musa sikkimensis Kurz, J. Agric. Soc. India, n.s., 5: 164 (1878) as an accepted name.

Section Eumusa (Musa) 2?
Distribution North-east India, Bhutan.
Description 1. "Plant robust, about 4 m. tall, foliage yellowish-green in colour ; sheaths smudged with blackish brown, devoid of wax except on young suckers and then faint ; petioles open with narrowly reflexed scarious wings ; laminas, the bases rounded or even slightly auriculate, flushed pale purple underneath at emergence, the colour later fading, longest persistent on the midrib ; juice watery ; inflorescence far outshot from the pseudostem, borne on a robust (4 - 5 cm.) pubescent peduncle ; fruit bunch oblique, rather lax, about 4 hands each of 7 - 9 biseriate fruits ; fruits splayed, massive, angular, 11 x 4 cm., bluntly rounded apiculate at the apex, abruptly tapered into the massive pedicel (2 x 1 - 2 cm.) at maturity green turning brown and drying off from the tip proximally, skin thick (5 mm.) and brittle rather than fibrous, enclosing a mass of large seeds embedded in a scanty dirty white or pale brownish-pink pulp ; seeds sharply angular, smooth, 6 - 10 mm. wide x 5 - 6 mm. deep with a saucer shaped hilum depression 2 x 1 mm. ; male rachis pendent, tapered rather markedly from base to apex, bract insertions not prominent, but long (far exceeding the flower scars) and curved, distant from each other at the base, much closer together at the distal end of the rachis ; male bud in advanced blooming large, turbinate about 12 x 8 cm., very slightly imbricate at the tip, probably (judging by the male rachis) very large and more strongly imbricate when young ; bracts, 1 - 2 raised at a time, deciduous, not or but slightly rolled back before falling, broadly ovate, obtuse, slightly ribbed and waxy, dull (purple-) crimson and somewhat dull yellow-variegated at the basal margins without, dull (not shiny) and crimson to the base within, outer tips yellowish ; male flowers about 14 per bract, biseriate ; compound tepal pale creamy orange, paling towards the base, 35 mm. long ; free tepal translucent, colourless, non- corrugated, minutely denticulate at the tip, 16 mm. long ; style white below, creamy above, tapered into the narrow-elongate creamy stigma ; stamens five, equal to the compound tepal, the anthers white (pink in B.E. 92)."

(Simmonds 1956).

2. "Pseudostem to 4m, robust, (35 - 40 cm. diameter at base), tinged reddish. Leaf sheaths marked blackish-brown, waxy only when young. Petiole c. 65 cm., channelled, margins erect, narrowly blackish-scarious, forming a black line in lower part against pseudostem. Leaves spreading, blades oblong-lanceolate, base rounded or slightly cordate, 1.8 - 2.1 x 0.6 m., yellowish-green, shining on both surfaces, usually purplish when young, sometimes beneath when older, midrib red or purplish beneath. Bracts broadly ovate, obtuse, not reflexing, deep purple to crimson, glaucous outside, inside concolorous, 1 - 2 male bracts opening at once. Male bud c. 12 x 8 cm., turbinate. Male flowers c. 14 per bract; compound tepal c. 3.5 cm., creamy-orange; free tepal c. 1.6 cm., translucent; stamens equalling compound tepal. Fruit bunch oblique, c. 4 hands each of 7 - 9 fruits borne in two rows; fruits rather lax, arising from large, brown callosities on axis, 11 - 15 x 4 cm., angled at maturity, abruptly narrowed into massive pedicel (c. 2 x 1 - 2 cm.), apex bluntly rounded apiculate; pericarp green turning brown. Seeds numerous, sharply angled, smooth, 6 - 10.5 x 5 - 6 mm., black, pulp scanty, dirty white to pale brownish-pink. [ ] Fl/Fr. October - April."

(Noltie 1994)

3. "Perennial herbs with stolons. Pseudostems short 1 - 1.5 m long. Flowers 6 - 8 in two rows, yellow. Fruits 7 - 10 cm long. Throughout Sikkim on hill slopes. Fl. & Fr.: Feb. - Oct."

(Hajra & Verma 1996).

References Baker 1893 : 214, Cheesman 1948f : 326, Hajra & Verma 1996 : 136, Kurz 1877 : 147 & 164, Noltie 1994 : 223, Simmonds 1956 : 478, Simmonds & Weatherup 1990 : 571.
Comments There is a great deal of interest in this plant because of its supposed cold hardiness, possibly as hardy as Musa basjoo. It was introduced into general cultivation in 1998 by Toby Spanner via seed that was initially and unfortunately offered under the name Musa hookeri; this has now been corrected but the name M. hookeri is still in circulation.

Although the species has been known since 1877, well defined by Kurz if not fully described, it is notable that Cheesman in his 1948 - 1950 series of "Critical Notes on Species" in Kew Bulletin was not sufficiently confident about it to treat it in its own right. He mentions it only as an entity allied to Musa nagensium Prain (which is why I have tentatively put M. sikkimensis alongside M. nagensium into the section Eumusa (Musa) 2 of Simmonds and Weatherup).

The status of M. sikkimensis as a distinct species was firmed up by Simmonds 1956. Simmonds noted a certain confusion of "specimens, labels, drawings and notes" in relation to the definition of M. sikkimensis and created a neotype for the species from a collection made at 6,000 ft. at Darjeeling. Simmonds gives a full description of the species, based on the neotype, something that his untimely death no doubt prevented Sulpiz Kurz from doing himself. Simmonds also noted specimens from Assam, Sikkim and Manipur, and possibly varietally distinct differences between them, and thought it possible that the species "ranges widely over the higher ground between Tibet and Burma".

Nothwithstanding the "confusion" of material and following Baker 1893, Simmonds, with typical certainty, firmly reduced Musa hookeri to a synonym of M. sikkimensis. Noltie's treatment of M. sikkimensis in Flora of Bhutan re-inforces its status and he also reduces M. hookeri to a synonym.

Into these newly calm waters comes Dr B Krishna's frustratingly brief notes in Flora of Sikkim (Hajra & Verma 1996). Dr Krishna not only gives a description for Musa sikkimensis different from Simmonds and from Noltie but revives the name Musa hookeri and gives to it a description that seems to match that given by Simmonds and by Noltie to M. sikkimensis. Since all of these gentlemen have known the plant in the field it seems necessary to accept their respective positions at face value and admit that is it currently not possible to reconcile them.

In the context of M. sikkimensis Cheesman noted in 1948 that "the first requirement is to determine by re-collection how many of the large-seeded species there are in Sikkim". It would seem that further collection is still necessary to allow a definitive review to be made of the Musa species of north-eastern India.


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last updated 01/05/2008