"A New Species of Banana" The Tropical Garden, Spring 2007


[The following is a transcription of an unpublished report written by David Fairchild. A few alterations from the original text have been made, mostly spelling and grammar. It was probably written in 1940 aboard the Cheng Ho.]


New Species of Banana,  Musa lolodensis

Discovered by the First Fairchild Garden Expedition

 By David Fairchild

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            To a collector of plants the discovery of a species "new to science" brings a thrill which is hard to describe. Such thrills are what have urged those great plant hunters of the past to risk their lives and separate themselves for years from the haunts of other men, sometimes of their families, in order to add just another species to the many hundreds which fill the great books with their descriptions. The sacrifices and privations which these explorers have made while not of the same class as those of soldiers fighting other soldiers, separated by theories on which they cannot agree, are most admirable examples of the power of the spirit; the spirit of discovery.

            Thanks to the generosity of Mrs. Anne Archbold who built a boat and put it at the disposal of a group of men who wanted to find new plants, this new species of banana has come into the collection of the great banana breeder of the world, Dr. E. E. Cheesman of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad.

            It is Dr. Cheesman who has studied this new species and found that it is new and that it is related rather to the group of Australasian Musas of which the great fiber banana, Musa textiles is one, than to the mostly African Musas. He has decided to name it after the Loloda Islands on one of which Hugo Curran and I first saw it and where on the Cheng Ho, Mrs. Fairchild took the seeds out which were sent to Florida and Trinidad and Los Bagnos in the Philippines.

Hugo Curran

            I can see in my imagination the clump of this beautiful wild banana as the launch of the Cheng Ho swept past on the swift flowing stream called the Soasio which coursed through that island of the South Loloda group and emptied into the Loloda Bay on the west coast of Halmahera. As Hugo Curran climbed the bank and cut a large bunch of this wild species of Musa; wild banana, we could see from the launch that several of the fruits on the bunch had split open from their tips and their segments had curled back like the petals of a lily showing a brilliant gamboges yellow interior; the pulp which was filled with black seeds. Against the background of the tropical vegetation, these flower-like-split-open fruits gave the appearance of large showy flowers opened to attract the birds and monkeys who no doubt for thousands of years have fed on the sweet pulp and helped in the distribution of the seeds which they swallowed.

letter from Dr. Cheesman to David Fairchild

In the correspondence with Dr. Cheesman which was started by a letter from Hugo Curran who is just leaving for his post in Mindanao, P. I. Dr. Cheesman says "We have a self-pollinated bunch now developing and when it is ripe some seeds shall be sent you. I don't care to send open-pollinated ones, because of hybridization in our plots - you might get quite misleading results." "Of ornamental species we have here Musa ornate, sanguinea; the valutina I sent you some years ago, and two others which I still have to name. We could procure selfed seed of any of those if you wish to try them."       

letter from Dr. Cheesman to David Fairchild

I am reminded as I write of these ornamental species of banana that when Mrs. Fairchild and I were in Java in 1926 the distinguished author and botanist, Dr. K. Keyne whose "Die Nuttige Planten van Nederlandisch-Indie" (The Useful Plants of the Netherlands-India) ranks among the very best books on tropical useful plants, took me to see in his back yard a specimen of the bananas Musa glauca. It is one of the striking ornamental species of the bananas and when the seeds which he gave me reached Florida they grew and produced most vigorous and interesting trees. When they flowered and fruited they bore great numbers of the most curious seeds the size of one's little finger. These grew with such a rapidity that some of them which I gave to my old friends Henry Allanson of the Bureau of Plant Industry in Washington produced plants in the greenhouse which when set out in the border made superb decorative border-plants, waving their gigantic leaves above the smaller species below. So striking were they that I proposed to some of my friends that they grow this species and sell the seeds to amateurs in the North. Unfortunately the plants which were growing at Chapman Field Garden ripened their crops of seed and were blown down before this plan got into operation. Like other schemes this one never came to trial.

Source: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Archive. David Fairchild Collection. VII-B Folder: Fruit 2


Botanical description of M. lolodensis


Botanical description of M. lolodensis












Musa lolodensis flowers and developing fruit










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