|Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger' in my garden|
|Closer view of Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger'|
|Musa sikkimensis with Ensete ventricosum 'Maurelii" and Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire'|
|Closer view of Musa sikkimensis|
|Young plant of Musa sikkimensis 'Bengal Tiger'|
|Closeup of underside of Musa sikkimensis 'Bengal Tiger' leaf|
The main differences from Musa basjoo are that it has more beautiful leaves than Musa basjoo--they are more rounded and do not get as tattered as those of Musa basjoo. Also, Musa sikkimensis can have more colorful leaves than Musa basjoo. The Musa sikkimensis in the third and fourth pictures above was one I got more than 10 years ago from Plant Delights Nursery as the straight species. The leaves on that one have a very attractive reddish cast to their undersides. The plant pictured in the first two shots is one I acquired from Mesogeo Nursery at least 5 or 6 years ago and maybe more. While it does not have the reddish tint on the undersides of the leaf, it does have some reddish markings on the leaves. I think Terri Stanley told me it was Musa 'Red Tiger', a strain of Musa sikkimensis which has those markings on the leaves. Finally, the last two pictures are of Musa sikkimensis 'Bengal Tiger' which has much more pronounced markings on the leaves than even 'Red Tiger'. I purchased three of those only last year from Plant Delights, so they are still fairly small plants. All three of those 'Bengal Tigers' have dramatic markings on the leaves and to my way of thinking are going to be spectacular when they are fully grown.
All my Musa sikkimensis plants have died completely to the ground each winter I have grown them. This is in contrast to Musa basjoo which can keep some of its height over the winter if the winter is mild enough. This characteristic of Musa sikkimensis may be why it is said that it is not as hardy as Musa basjoo. However, despite the winter die-back of Musa sikkimensis, by this time of the year it generally has caught up with Musa basjoo in size. It is also said that Musa sikkimensis does not get as big as Musa basjoo, but again, that has not been the case in my garden. As you can see from the first picture above, this banana can get quite large if it is grown in conditions to its liking. Those conditions seem to be fertile soil and lots of water. That large banana in the picture is growing right over the drainfield and it seems to like that.
I have been growing hardy bananas for almost 20 years, and in the first few years I grew them I constructed cages around their stems which I filled with dead leaves to protect them from the cold. After a few years I gave up on this practice because I concluded it wasn't necessary. I have never protected a banana in the winter since then and I have never lost a Musa basjoo to the cold nor a Musa sikkimensis. Sometimes they may die down completely in the winter, but they always come back. I have had my oldest Musa basjoo for 18 or 19 years.
With the demise of Heronswood and Mesogeo the go to source for Musa sikkimensis now seems to be Plant Delights. I should note that in addition to Musa sikkimensis 'Bengal Tiger', they are offering a new species this year with an unpronounceable name of Musa xishuangbannaensis, or Mekong Giant banana. It is supposed to be hardy to zone 7 and has a bright reddish purple trunk. It is described as a Musa basjoo on steroids. With that description I wonder how I have resisted ordering it yet? I need to remedy that oversight.
Finally, I posted that third picture above--the bananas with the pots of begonias in front just to show you how big these begonias have gotten. I previously blogged about Begonia boliviensis here. There are two pots of this begonia in the picture above. Each pot has only one plant in it and these were tiny plants that I purchased just last year in four inch pots. Thus, you can see how big these can grow in a very short time with good living--I feed and water them regularly with Fox Farm.