In the or­chard

This trop­i­cal plant is a great sur­vivor in more places than you’d think.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Growing - BEN GAIA

How you can go ab­so­lutely bananas

Pic­tured be­low is my red Abyssinian banana ( Ensete ven­tri­co­sum ‘Mau­re­lii’) grown as a suc­cess­ful bon­sai to about 1 me­tre tall. I had it for many years un­til the frost got it, or maybe it was the drought. These plants will grow to 6m in a high rain­fall area if prop­erly fed and mulched well.

Most of the north-fac­ing, coastal North Is­land is suit­able for grow­ing bananas thanks to it be­ing an ac­tual Pa­cific is­land, some­thing we some­times for­get.

The banana tree at your grandma’s house is nearly al­ways one of those old-fash­ioned Samoan banana va­ri­eties like Hua Moa, or a Cook Is­land plan­tain ( Musa acumi­nata). Banana palms, as they are known in the south, mostly grow bet­ter near the sea (per­haps they like salt spray?) and are easily trans­planted by dig­ging up the huge bulb in win­ter, as if it were a gi­ant daf­fodil.

My neigh­bour ar­rived one day with one in a wheel­bar­row and we buried it near the back door, shel­tered by the house. My place is south of Arthurs Pass so it strug­gles here, grow­ing a huge leaf in just one week in sum­mer, only for it to be ripped to tat­ters by a gale. Twice in 20 years it has flow­ered and fruited tiny yel­low ‘lady fin­ger’ bananas with no mid­dle, a great talk­ing point.

Be­fore the fruitlets comes a beau­ti­ful, com­plex flo­ral dis­play. One of my spec­tac­u­lar banana flow­ers came com­plete with a res­i­dent red spi­der, which I as­sume is part of the pol­li­na­tion tech­nique in the West­land area.

I have tried and tested both the red Abyssinian and the plan­tain va­ri­eties in our harsh coastal South Is­land con­di­tions. I can re­port both can re­cover from what you’d think would be a killing blow of a -7°C frost. Both like a heavy mulch with ex­tra potas­sium (sea­weed, fish emul­sion), and I’d rec­om­mend throw­ing your grass cut­tings and com­post around the base regularly.

There are many suc­cess­ful, beau­ti­ful ex­per­i­ments with bananas grow­ing north of Auck­land and in the more trop­i­cal ar­eas of the coun­try, both or­na­men­tal and ed­i­ble. Check out the Auck­land mar­kets for fresh pro­duce di­rect from the grow­ers, and ask them what va­ri­eties they’d rec­om­mend for your area.

You can find the banana flow­ers at the Avon­dale Mar­ket, wrapped and sold for eat­ing as a Viet­namese del­i­cacy. You’ll find boiled banana served as a Pacifica food at Otara’s weekly mar­kets. Most peo­ple in the trop­ics who eat fresh bananas cook them as a sweet veg­etable, and they are of­ten sold com­pletely green for this pur­pose.

As a land­scap­ing fea­ture, these plants are fab­u­lously ar­chi­tec­tural. They will never be­come widely com­mer­cial like the olive or the grape, but their pres­ence in any or­chard adds dig­nity and a Pa­cific iden­tity. They look great in a group, and I think they make the weather sev­eral de­grees warmer,

just by look­ing at them.

Musa acumi­nata

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