Discovering the natural range of Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis in Taiwan

Dried Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis Taichung Museum of Natural History

Dried Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis Taichung Museum of Natural History

While working in the Taichung Museum of Natural History in Taiwan during June 2010, I was shown some dried specimens of a newly discovered yellow-flowered banana from Ilan, north-western Taiwan, and was told that Dr. Hui-Lung Chiu from the Taiwan Agricultural Research Institute was very keen to meet with me to discuss it. A meeting was arranged for the 29th June 2010 after returning from my work on Lanyu Island.

I could learn very little from the dried specimens other than the seeds looked exactly the same as Musa itinerans var. formosana (Syn. Musa formosana).

The meeting with Dr. Chiu was a long and interesting one. He told me that he discovered the yellow-flowered banana in Ilan 3 years earlier whilst looking for M. itinerans var. formosana there. He has since located a second population 2 km further up the road, making a total of two, possibly three locations for the form. He had provisionally decided to name it Musa itinerans var. gamalamesis after the location where he found it. The species was finally published as Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis H.L.Chiu, C.T.Shii & T.Y.A.Yang, Novon 21: 410 (2011). The epithet honours the Kavalan aboriginal people of Ilan county. The two populations Dr. Chiu identified are on the river side of Bei-bu Road, Cross-Island Highway No. 7. at 212 m and 276 m elevation. He thought he may have found a third on the other side of the road, but as they were not flowering he couldn’t be sure. He had not searched the area for more.

I put it to him that as they are directly by the roadside and only in this area that they could be planted by humans, and that I would be willing to go with him on a field trip to thoroughly search the location to possibly find more and establish what the total area of the species is. We arranged the field trip for 11th July 2010 after my return from Japan.

First sight of the yellow-flowered banana by the roadside

First sight of the yellow-flowered banana by the roadside

We set off at dawn from Taichung to reach Ilan before midday. The first population was easily seen beside the road. A large population of what were very large plants, much taller than any M. itinerans var. formosana I had ever seen. We were later to discover that the size of these plants was due to the rich soil beside the riverbed, and less nourished plants do not grow so large.

Other than the size of the plants they looked very similar to M. itinerans var. formosana. Certainly in leaf and stem detail, but also in the clumping habit.

The obvious differences are the male bud being a pale greenish/yellow colour, the same basal colour as the M. itinerans var. formosana male bud but without any of the M. itinerans var. formosana reddish streaks and markings. The fruits also have no reddish/purple colouration leaving them a very clean looking pale bluish/green colour. The pseudostem shows very minimal or zero red blotches or markings unlike M. itinerans var. formosana.

The size of the male bud and overall bunch size is variable even within these larger plants on this fertile riverbed. The male bud size can vary from small, 8 cm long to over 25 cm long.

Close-up of bunch detail

Close-up of bunch detail

Close-up of leaf detail

Close-up of leaf detail

From the location of this first clump by the roadside I could see that there were no other bananas within sight. The second clump was a further 2 km up the road. The clump was of a similar size to the first clump, and again there were no other bananas around that were visible with the naked eye. I used my field glasses to scour the hillsides. On the other side of the riverbed across the valley, about 0.5 km away. I could see more bananas, so we decided to trek across the mainly dry riverbed to get a closer look. These bananas proved to be M. itinerans var. formosana. The fruits had red blotches and streaks and there were visible red blotches on the pseudostem. Now, from the other side of the valley it was very clear that the yellow-flowered bananas were isolated.

Close-up of the male bud, clearly non-imbricate

Close-up of the male bud, clearly non-imbricate

Hui-Lung Chiu with small bunch

Hui-Lung Chiu with small bunch

Collected bunch

Collected bunch

View from the riverbed of the second clump of plants

View from the riverbed of the second clump of plants

Close-up of the male bud

Close-up of the male bud

We then decided it was time we started a thorough search of the hillsides to see if there were more populations. The hillsides were very steep and inaccessible near the two clumps so we chose a spot a little further up the road where we could get access to the hillside. Less than 20 m up the hill from the road we found our first new specimen with a yellow bud. A few metres further on from there we found the next and the next. Within minutes and climbing only about 100 m we were finding several small clumps.

At about 300 m elevation we stumbled upon an isolated cemetery grave in the forest. Planted beside it was a cultivated banana with fruits. Directly behind the grave were many yellow flowered bananas. There was no evidence of any hybridisation taking place.

At 400 m elevation we were finding many huge clumps of the yellow-flowered banana, and we were now loosing count of what we’d seen.

Bunch at 400 m elevation

Bunch at 400 m elevation

Musa itinerans var. formosana at 500 m elevation growing alongside Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis

Musa itinerans var. formosana at 500 m elevation growing alongside Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis

Musa itinerans var. formosana at 500 m elevation clearly showing the purplish coloured fruits and red blotches on the pseudostem

Musa itinerans var. formosana at 500 m elevation clearly showing the purplish coloured fruits and red blotches on the pseudostem

At 500 m elevation we came across a large clump, and looking through it it looked more like M. itinerans var. formosana with many dark red blotched on the pseudostem. We had to search through all the stems until we found flowers and fruit. Sure enough this was Musa itinerans var. formosana and not the yellow-flowered banana, Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis.

A few more metres up the hill and we found a large clump of yellow-flowered banana standing alongside a large clump of M. itinerans var. formosana. At no time did we find any evidence of intermediate hybridisation between the two forms, and conclude that the two forms do not hybridise.

At 800 m elevation Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis  can still be seen in huge clumps.

At 800 m elevation Musa itinerans var. kavalanensis can still be seen in huge clumps.

At 750 m elevation the forest opened up to reveal a much more level landscape, well much less steep, which was being cultivated. We stopped climbing at 800 m, however, bananas were still visible further up the hillside.

 

 

 

 

Further information and complete description can be found on http://www.trebrown.com/plant_info.php?species=Musa+itinerans+var.+kavalanensis Use the interactive distribution map at the bottom of that page. The map may not show the complete distribution of the species, only to the extent that we searched. We do know the bounds to the east and the bounds to the south (the riverbed).

References:
A New Variety of Musa itinerans (Musaceae) in Taiwan
http://www.trebrown.com/plant_info.php?species=Musa+itinerans+var.+kavalanensis

Interested in DIY adventure travel, exploring, and organising your own expedition?

This is a request for like-minded people (ten or so), from any nationality, to come together to organise their own expedition to that remote destination you always wanted to explore, but never got around to.

It may be that you lack the confidence to go it alone, or the logistics and cost has been prohibitive. What I am proposing here is that you come forward to discuss where you want to go and what you wish to do when you get there. If we can get enough like-minded people together, who want to go there then we can pool our resources and organise that expedition much easier and cheaper than if you were to try and do it on your own.

The destinations I am referring to are generally those that may be extremely remote like Madagascar, Borneo, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Bolivia etc.. Or less remote, but nevertheless difficult for one to organise on ones own like China, Vietnam, Mexico, or even Africa and Australia. I’m not suggesting you do anything touristy like visit cities and temples, although these things are usually unavoidable.

Like-minded people are those with an interest in the natural world. You may be an academic botanist or zoologist needing to study a particular species, a geologist interested in a mountain range or formation. But you could also be a complete novice with an interest in ornithology, or you just want to see a wild tiger before they go extinct. Whatever your background, if you want to do something really special and adventurous in your lifetime you can, by pooling together with like-minded people to undertake an expedition or field trip everyone gains in the shared knowledge of the participants, the security of travelling together, and the reduced logistical costs.

I envision these field trips and expeditions to be of the duration of a few weeks to a couple of months. Longer trips are not out of the question, but I can tell you from my own experience that expeditions lasting longer than a month become tedious, tiring, and generally much more difficult. Besides, many people can’t spare the time, and people invariably become irritating when you travel for too long with them.

And to give you an idea of what to expect, it is more often the case that most of the time is spent in hotels where we make excursions out into the field. Sometimes we work out of a base camp, other excursions might entail a 5 day trek through a rain forest where we hold up each night in hammocks. Some countries insist that we employ at least one guide to travel with us especially if we have a collecting permit. In most cases it is preferable to have a motor vehicle, mini bus, truck, car or boat, to give us the freedom to get us and our kit close to where we need to go, it then works as our base camp. The itinerary is decided by the species we set out to see, and the minimal amount of effort needed to get in, see that or those species and get out.

About me
I’m not the kind of person who likes to ‘blow my own trumpet’ and talk much about myself, however, I understand that in the context of this you do need to know quite a lot about me.

My name is Phil, I am male, 48 years old, married with two teenage boys, British, based in Cornwall, Southwest UK. And I own Trebrown nurseries and this website. My academic background is in biology and geology, but I specialise in botany and palaeobotany, mainly [Arecaceae] palm trees, [Cycadae] cycads, [Musaceae] bananas, [Pteridophyta] ferns, and conifers especially Araucariaceae and Podocarpaceae. My interests extend further than this though and I am fascinated by everything in the natural world, including birds, mammals, invertebrates, reptiles and fish.

I maintain a high level of fitness, but would not go so far as to say I am fanatical about it, I generally eat healthily, but can, on occasion eat junk, and I have been known to consume large levels of alcohol (never out of context). I’m a keen cricketer and play throughout the year. I run and work-out regularly. When I was younger I was keen on hang-gliding, climbing and kayaking, but these days my only adventure sports include scuba diving and hiking, with the occasional bit of tree climbing.

I have received military wilderness survival training and logistical training in planning and moving large volumes of equipment, kit, and personnel, in and out of combat zones. I’ve been trained in first aid (certificate now expired). I am fluent in conversational Mandarin Chinese, and I speak basic Indonesian/Basa Malay. I hold an open-water scuba diving licence.

I also hold a driving licence to drive any motor vehicle with the exception of high capacity seating PCVs (busses), though I’m licensed to drive 16 seaters, HGVs of all classes, automobiles, motorcycles, and have been highly trained to operate vehicles in all terrains – off road in remote locations. Also to maintain and fix vehicles on location.

I have travelled through approximately 67 countries, and driven vehicles through 28 of those countries. Although I have partaken in expeditions all over the world, mainly botanical expeditions, I was based in Taiwan for 10 years and most of my work has been throughout Southeast Asia – China, Taiwan, Tibet, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nepal, India, Pakistan etc.. I also lived in Australia for 2 years, and travelled extensively there and New Zealand. Over the last few years, due to my knowledge of the countries and my language skills, I have assisted, and led many academics into Asian destinations for them to study their specific subject in the field.

Lastly, I have been fortunate over the years to have seen, in the wild, many of the world’s rarest and most fascinating animals, birds, and plants. But you can also see these if you want to.

Now about you
Contact me using the secure link provided. The information you submit will not be published in any way, neither will the information be transmitted to other interested parties without your express permission. I will post your basic destination idea on this page to see if there is public interest.

Start by suggesting a destination, and what it is (if any) that you would like to see or study while you are there. It may be that you don’t mind where you go and are happy to join the party wherever we go.

Provide a little background about yourself, and include information about your fitness. Don’t worry if you have a disability or think you’re not fit enough, contact me anyway and we’ll discuss it. Your fitness will improve tremendously both during preparation and during the expedition. But do remember that you could put other expedition members at risk if you don’t disclose a serious medical problem beforehand.

If you have specialist knowledge about the country, environment, species, language, whatever, Let me know. Likewise, if you have the most experience travelling in the country you will be the expedition leader (help provided). Otherwise, I will assume expedition leadership.

If motor vehicles are to be needed, then I will take on that responsibility, but quite often more than one driver is needed. So if you feel you have the ability to drive and or maintain a vehicle then you should also advise me so.

Even if you can’t do this trip this year, but would like to do it before you die, contact me right now regardless, we can discuss it by email or phone, and it might be more feasible than you originally thought. Please don’t be put off suggesting a destination because it has no palm trees and you think I won’t want to go there, I’m interested to go to any destination regardless of whether I’ve been there before or not.

Contact link, opens a contact form in a new window. Or leave a reply at the bottom of the page.

One last thing. I want to make this ‘Not for profit’. I have to travel all the time anyway, I see this as a means to reduce my costs, and meet interesting people and learn from them. I may have to charge some sort of administration fee if its taking a lot of my time and resources, but the over-all objective here is to reduce the expedition costs for all participants.

Look forward to hearing from you.

Speak to you soon,

Phil Markey

Suggestions:

Two weeks travelling down the eastern side of Taiwan, and a trip over to Lanyu island in the summer 2013.
This is a suggestion from myself. Fairly simple in the planning – travelling in a minibus and staying in hotels every other day or so. Other nights spent outdoors in hammocks, to save hotel costs, and to get into the wilderness. Wildlife includes butterflies, birds including eagles and the Lanyu Scops owl, snakes, and a lot of plants – ferns, bananas, and palms including 3 calamus (ratan) species, Arenga engleri, Pinanga tashiroi, Phoenix loureiroi, and Livistona chinensis var. subglobosa. I know the habitats like the back of my hand, and I speak Chinese.

An addition to this could be Two weeks in the Japanese Ryukyu islands to see: ferns, spectacular environments, Cycas revoluta, and palms including Arenga ryukyuensis, Satakentia liukiuensis, and the most northerly population of Nypa fruticans.
Contact me or leave a message if you’re interested.