Musa sumatrana

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

Accepted name Musa acuminata L. A. Colla var. sumatrana (O. Beccarii?) R. E. Nasution, Memoirs of Tokyo University of Agriculture. 32: 1 - 122 (1991). not seen

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons lists Musa sumatrana Becc., Ill. Hort. 27: 37 (1880) as an accepted name.

References Baker 1893 : 219, Cheesman 1948b : 25, Graf Exotica, Griffiths 1994, Hotta 1989 : 70, Huxley 1992, Moore 1957 : 189, RHS 1956, Ricker 1937, Ridley 1926 : 90.
Comments I can find no reference to "Cat. Hort. Flor. II : 4" cited by Baker 1893.

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 (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 existence of 4 or 5 more. But Simmonds made no mention of M. sumatrana and its likely position in that pantheon.  Two subspecies of Musa acuminata are known to occur in Sumatra, subsp. malaccensis and subsp. zebrina.  I do not know how Nasution's var. sumatrana is distinguished.

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.

see Musa acuminata sumatrana

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last updated 02/05/2008