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On Gardening: 'Bananas' key to your tropical paradise

April 28, 2014

The coarse texture or bold foliage of the banana has the ability to transform the garden into a tropical paradise.

The Red Abyssinian banana started showing up in garden centers just over a decade ago and now is considered to be the most beautiful banana for the landscape. It is the perfect choice for gardeners looking to create their corner of a tropical paradise. 

Growing a tropical garden is most assuredly an attempt to get a certain appearance, but it also says something about the gardener’s disposition. You’ve left your work at the office and you’ve abandoned the stress of the freeway, beltway or wherever your traffic jam originates. It is not paradise lost but paradise found, and it’s in your yard.

To me, bananas of all sorts represent the key ingredient to your tropical garden; they have a magical transforming effect on a landscape because of their coarse or bold textured foliage. A perennial or cottage garden suddenly changes to an exotic tropical garden with the addition of a couple of bananas.

The reason is simple: As you drive or hike through a tropical rainforest like El Yunque in Puerto Rico you notice the size or magnitude of the plants and what seems to be a never-ending variety of leaf textures. The bananas at the garden center this spring offer all of that, including monolithic-sized leaves, some rich in color and others with variegation that makes you stare with wonder and amazement.

The Red Abyssinian banana is known botanically as Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurellii’ and is from Africa. It is a food staple in Ethiopia but not for the inedible banana type fruits but as a starch substitute from the corm below the ground. A lot of elephant ears are cooked and eaten in much the same way but you and I are just going to relish in the beauty of its deep burgundy and green foliage and trunk or psuedostem.

The Red Abyssinian is listed as a zone 10-11 plant. I have seen them over-winter many years in zone 8, and the largest one I have ever seen was in zone 7 where it was being grown in a microclimate protected by tall trees on the south side of a two-story home. Here, each leaf and its petiole would have measured 9 feet. So consider its potential to get 10 feet tall and 8 feet wide or larger when you plant yours. If you grow yours in a container, the size of the pot will dictate how large your banana grows.

Don’t worry if you are in a cold region because even if this banana had to be repurchased each year, it is worth the price because of its incredible beauty. It has an abundance of landscape applications from the tropical setting with cannas and elephant ears, to grandma’s cottage garden, and as the thriller plant in mixed containers.

Another new banana causing quite the stir is the Siam Ruby. The trunk and leaves of this exotic tropical are burgundy with irregular iridescent, lime-green variegation in the foliage. Botanically speaking it is known as Musa acuminata ‘Siam Ruby’.  I’ve grown this banana in containers, the landscape and in trials, and for me it reached about 8 feet tall. Those in the landscape returned from the ground in zone 8 after being frozen.

The Blood Leaf with its burgundy variegation, the Black Thai with a black pseudostem and Japanese Fiber banana — the most-cold hardy banana grown — are all super choices that will have you thinking Jamaica, jerked chicken and steel drums. The nicest thing of all is this will all take place in your own backyard paradise.
 


Associated Press