Botanists in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been quietly going bananas. And it is not their fault, for the islands are a biodiversity hotspot that hosts seven different species of wild banana that we know of, not to mention numerous, as yet undocumented, others.
The latest discovery, published in the Nordic Journal of Botany, is of a species of wild banana named Musa paramjitiana, in honour of Paramjit Singh, who happens to be the director of the Botanical Survey of India (BSI). The species was found in North Andaman’s Krishnapuri forest, 6 kilometres from any human habitation.
The plant grows to a height of nine metres and bears an edible, sweet-and-sour tasting fruit that is boat-shaped and has numerous bulb-shaped seeds. Its conservation status has been declared as ‘Critically Endangered’ as it has so far been spotted in only two locations on the islands, each with 6 to 18 plants in a clump.
“No population has been located in the other regions of the Andaman Islands, and the drastic disappearance of its mixed forest habitat indicates that the species should be considered Critically Endangered, based on IUCN Red List categories and criteria,” observed the article by Lal Ji Singh, a BSI scientist.
According to Mr. Singh, the fruit is part of the diet of local tribes. “The fruits and seeds have ethno-medicinal importance. Pseudo-stem and leaves of these species are also used during religious and cultural ceremonies,” he added.
“These discoveries present a great opportunity for plant breeders and horticulture experts to improve the existing banana crop. The germplasm of all the wild banana species needs to be conserved on an urgent basis, since most of these are found in very small habitats and at risk of extinction,” Mr. Singh said.
In 2014, he discovered Musa indandamanensis, another wild banana, in a remote tropical rain forest on the Little Andaman island. It has dark green cylindrical flower buds.