It’s hot…just accept it, and pretend you’re in the tropics by planting banana trees in your garden.   Not a true “tree”, bananas grow from underground rhizomes, the overlapping leaf petioles forming pseudo-trunks, with large, showy leaves that shred naturally in the wind, giving the plants their exotic look.  They are fast-growing, heat-tolerant annuals in our area, with the exception of one or two hardy species out of the several hundred grown throughout the world.  There are fruiting varieties and ornamental varieties, dwarf plants growing only to 2 feet and some to over 30 feet.    

The word banana comes from the Arabic word for finger (banan).  The earliest bananas were native to Southeast Asia, but they are now grown commercially in more than 100 countries.  Dessert bananas, like the varieties we eat fresh from the tree or sliced on our breakfast cereals are the most familiar to us, but more widely grown are cooking bananas, like plantains.  Banana is the common name for both Musa cavendish and other popular fruiting bananas, as well as for Ensete maurelii and other ornamental varieties in the plant family Musaceae.

Each banana tree forms one flower cluster that produces multiple “hands” of 10-20 bananas.  After fruiting, the plant dies and, in the right climate, is replaced by one or more new plants (suckers) growing from the rhizome.  Because it takes nine months or more of consistently warm temperatures for a banana to fruit, a banana plant in our area may never produce any bananas.

Bananas make excellent container plants, and can be kept over the winter in a bright window.  Use a very well-draining potting mix making sure your pot has a drainage hole.  Do not let the roots stand in the excess run-off water.  You want moist but not soggy soil, so do not over-pot the plant, moving it up into larger containers only as needed with root growth.  Fertilize whenever the plant is actively growing with a general purpose houseplant formula.

The most popular of the “hardy” bananas is Musa basjoo, the root system tolerating temperatures as low as 10⁰F, or even below freezing if mulched very well.   With a mild winter, and a sheltered location, you may see new leaves from the original trunk, but more likely you will find new bananas growing from the rhizomes in late spring or early summer.  Some people keep a banana over the winter by removing the leaves and storing the trunk on its side in a crawl space or other area that remains cold but above freezing.

Who doesn’t like bananas?  They always make me think of Carmen Miranda and her outrageous “tutti frutti hat”.  When she danced and sang in the 1943 film “The Gang’s All Here”, a chorus line of beautiful girls performed with giant bananas.  Then there are banana splits, Bananas Foster, banana bread, banana pudding…

Posted: 6/25/2014 by Margot | with 0 comment(s)
Filed under: TheGreatIndoors
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