Superlative of the bananas - ensete superbum

Ensete superbum is a magnificent wild banana with large showy leaves and a much reduced stem, when compared to normal cultivated species. This plant is one of the many ‘stony banana’ varieties which fruit bananas packed with seeds, and unsuitable for direct eating but important due to their medicinal values (and of-course for ecological completeness).

Stony banana - ensete at Kaje Vrukshalaya

Ensete superbum belongs to family Musaceae, to which the normal edible bananas belong, but Genus Ensete which is different from the Genus of edible bananas – Musa. Musella is the other genus containing only 2 species which also do not produce edible bananas.

Ensete plants contain only 1 pseudo stem and do not produce suckers. Ensete is monocarpous, meaning to say it produces a single bunch of flower in the life time and dies after bearing fruits. Reproduction is only through seeds. Unlike the normal bananas Ensete plants are extremely drought resistant making them sustain on rocky mountains hence called ‘rock banana’ in indian languages. It is called ‘ಕಲ್ಲುಬಾಳೆ’ in kannada ‘jangli kela’ in hindi and ‘kalvalai’ in Tamil.
Ensete Superbum is nature’s excellent example of plants' and animals' ability to adapt to seasons and not adapt the seasons for themselves, luckily unlike humans. Ensete superbum completely dries out in the summer and all visible parts of the plant will die, leaving the corm alive. Just before the rains hit again, the corm gives out a new shoot, giving the plant the lost glory back.
Larger showy flowers of Ensete

A large flower bud will emerge when the plant is 3-4 years of age and only if grown to a good physical size. It does not flower in dry areas due to lack of sufficient resources (I have a plant which has not flowered for more than 4 years). The flower bunch is larger and more showy than the usual banana flowers due to larger sized bracts surrounding each group of flowers. The banana fruit will bear bananas in plenty each containing seeds in abundance. The seeds are used for treating kidney stone. The pseudo stem is edible can be eaten cooked and raw (in salads) - I am yet to try this. The leaves are of similar use as the normal banana leaves. The corm is a source of food in countries like Ethiopia and said to produce up to 40 KGs of food material when fully grown. The banana flower is extremely tangy and inedible to humans.

Ensete - Closely packed short fruits containing seeds

The plant is diminishing in numbers in western ghats region possibly due to diminishing forest cover, attack by humans for its medicinal values and wild boar attacks(?). It is one of the most beautiful wild plants with circularly arranged leaves, a robust, awesome stem and (depending on sunlight/conditions) bright red leaf-midribs. It is a must have in the forests and equally so in our gardens, hence most aptly called ‘superbum’!

Ensete = Ethiopian word for this banana

Superbum = possibly for the beautiful look


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