July Plant of the Month – Banana
There is something about a banana that brings out the silly side in people. Is it the association with monkeys? The sunny yellow color of the fruit? I don’t know for sure, but I do know that whenever I point out our banana plant in the conservatory, our visitors, volunteers and staff can’t help but smile.
Now, you’ll notice that I said banana “plant” and not banana “tree”. Although the plant can grow to reach 25 feet tall, what looks to most people to be the “trunk” is actually a mesh of intertwining leaves (fibrous, just like a banana peel!) with a soft stem pushing up through the middle. Banana plants are some of the world’s largest non-woody plants, and many gardeners grow them for their dramatic foliage, even here in Colorado!
Bananas are native to southeast Asia, but once they became domesticated, their cultivation spread throughout the tropics, where they captured the imagination of many. The fruit was cooked as a vegetable or used as medicine for snakebite. The leaves made handy utensils or even umbrellas. Alexander the Great reported seeing the fruit in India, and medieval texts wondered if bananas were the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden.
I’ve been showing guests our banana plant in the Wings of the Tropics quite a bit lately, because we currently have a big bunch of bananas growing in the southeastern corner of the conservatory. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the horticulture staff and volunteers have to prepare themselves for two things. The first is…banana splits for everyone! Actually, most of the fruit we grow in the conservatory, such as the guava and bananas, goes right back to our butterflies and other exhibit animals.
The second thing we must prepare for is a little more bittersweet. Each stem of a banana plant can produce only one bunch of bananas. This means that once this bunch is harvested, we’ll cut the stem all the way to the ground and wait for a new stem to emerge. It’ll look pretty bare in that southeastern corner for a time, but fortunately, banana plants grow quickly, and then we can look forward to our next bunch.
Posted by Amy Yarger