Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Zebra stripped

I nearly fell off my chair when I saw specimens of the Heliconia zebrina being sold out at US$80 in a show in New York. It reminded me of a rather similar plant I had seen while wading in the small forest streams in Peninsula Malaysia 10 years ago. The impressive plants, up to about 2 metres tall, stood up amongst the uniformly green undergrowth in the cool shady banks due to their large stripped leaves. My first impression was that it was a garden escape - probably a type of Calathea from the New World ....except that we were at least 1 hour drive from the nearest village.

About a year later, I made another trip to the habitat but was dismayed that the forest had been cleared, for oil palm plantation, but that would be another story ....

About this plant.... the black bands in the Heliconia were broad and sunken while that in the local species were protruding and narrow. Calathea zebrina would be a closer match but that was a much smaller plant. And of course, both Calathea and Heliconia are not found in this part of the world. After a quick check with "Malaysian Wild flowers" by M. R.Henderson, I established that it was probably some type of Phrynium or Donax and did not go further. More years later. through another ginger enthusiast, I got the photos across to Dr Helen Kennedy who solved this mystery for me, identifying it as Phrynium villosulum Miquel. Of course by then I had the photos of the inflorescence as well, which consisted of white flowers extruding from a basal stumpy mushy bract and looked nothing like a Heliconia at all.

Actually I was not the first to notice the vegetative similarity - Rodigas made a painting of this plant with stripped leaves and described it as Heliconia triumphans in 1882 from collections in Sumatra.

Although not common in trade, this plant is quite widely distributed from Malaysia to Borneo and Sumatra. It appears to favour shady wet stream banks or muddy places.

Notes on Malaysian Marantaceae and the Identity of Heliconia triumphans
Helen Kennedy
Kew Bulletin
Vol. 41, No. 3 (1986), pp. 725-731


Hermes said...

I want one, love those lvs.

islaverde said...

Good that you managed to save one from habitat destruction. Do they form seeds?

Anyway, Heliconia zebrina is cool growing and won't survive unless in a Cameron highlands environment.

antigonum cajan said...

You better start collecting. From your many posts, it seems that all of what you have shared with fans and foes, will be HISTORY...pretty soon.

Hort Log said...

I heard this plant is being commercialised .... soon we will be able to see more of it.

Garden Forum said...

We are blessed with a bountiful nature.This plant is a must have in our garden.
Fantastic article.

Related Posts with Thumbnails