Thursday, October 22, 2009

Landscape - Hardy Banana

The following is information on hardy banana, a perennial plant to try in Delaware gardens for a "tropical" look along side of Cannas and similar plants.

A great tropical looking plant, native to Japan’s Ryukyu Islands and is hardy to zone 6 if mulched heavily with leaves in the autumn. Plants can reach 10’ in height, with foliage up to 6’ in length. Plants will produce new offsets each spring around the original plant, creating a great impact for the annual or mixed border!

Besides adding a tropical look to gardens, the hardy banana, Musa basjoo, is a fascinating plant. It, along with other species in the genus Musa are the world's largest herbaceous plants, mostly originating from tropical climates. Many species of Musa routinely grow more than twenty feet tall! The hardy banana grows to be anywhere from 12 to 18 feet tall, so it will probably attract some attention if planted in your garden.

While sometimes we talk about banana 'trees', in fact all parts of the plant are herbaceous–no parts are woody. What many of us mistake for the 'trunk' of the banana tree is in fact tightly wrapped leaves. Botanically speaking this is a pseudostem, meaning 'false' stem. Unlike a lot of plants, the growing point for a banana plant is not near the outside of the plant. It is deep within the pseudostem near the base, much like how German irises and canna lilies grow.

Each pseudostem on a banana plant has a limited lifespan. It only lives as long as it takes it to flower and produce fruit. For many species, this can take the better part of a year. In our climate it is unlikely that the hardy banana will grow long enough to produce fruit. If it does, unfortunately it is not edible.

Why would anyone grow a banana plant that produces inedible fruit? The answer lies in the other common name for Musa basjoo–Japanese fiber banana. Musa basjoo is actually from the Ryukyu Islands of Japan, and historic records indicate the Japanese have cultivated the banana for fiber since the 13th century.

The fibers are extracted from shoots by boiling the shoots in lye. Then the fibers are spun into yarn and used for garments. The fibers extracted from a shoot will vary in how coarse or soft they are. Those near the outside tend to be coarser, while those in the center are much softer. Other cultures also use banana fibers, but the extraction method differs. The end result is very similar. The softest fibers have been compared to silk in how they feel and look when used in textiles. Banana fiber can also be used to make paper.

Musa basjoo, hardy banana. Photo from the Miami of Ohio cold hardy tropical plant research group web site

Information from Rutgers University and an article by Jennifer Schultz Nelson, Unit Educator, Horticulture Macon County, University of Illinois.

1 comment:

pete said...

if your readers are looking for more information on USDA plant hardiness zones, there is a detailed, interactive USDA plant hardiness zone map at