Ensete ventricosum ‘Maurelii’ (Red Banana or Abyssinian Banana) was a plant I offered to my Container Gardening Party guests in 2010. It required some restraint for me to not keep at least one of the plants for myself. This is one of those ultimate type of thrillers for designer container gardens. With its big wide leaves streaked with red highlights, it reminds me of a relative, the canna plant. However, this banana gets much larger. The size of this plant was mentioned by the sales staff at the growers when I picked up my flats. I knew this plant grows large, but I don’t think I really knew this! When I went to see the plant at a guest’s home a couple months after she selected it for her container during my class, I was impressed with the increase of the trunk’s diameter. She had embedded her container within many other showy plants around her inground pool. It stood tall and impressed everyone who visited her home during the summer.
The banana plant isn’t a tree, so technically its stalk is not a trunk. But it sure looks like one. It is made up of tightly bound petioles that grow from the rhizome. If you slice the stalk, trunk, or technically what is called a pseudostem (look that one up if you should so desire!), you will see the layers of leaves somewhat encircling inside. I actually like seeing this pattern. Think of it like a wrapped cigar or a rolled layer cake.
Because I am a foliage fanatic, this plant is high on my list. Its leaves can grow up to 1 foot wide. The length of the leaves is grand too – reaching many feet long! Additionally, the midrib of the leave is something that offers impact. When I visited the poolside specimen at my guest’s home, I took a close up photo of the midrid. It was beautifully infused with a deepwine red color providing color impact, and the size of the midrib added a structural design element. It was becoming thick and showy. As with most of my favorite plants, this plant is showy because of its foliage, structure, and shear size. Flowers are not really a necessity. This is a good thing, for this banana requires at least one full growing season to bloom and this would occur in the spring providing all aspects of over-wintering care is provided.
However, in Hawai’i last October, my first banana flower sighting took place (in a few locations too). It looked like a mini-football dangling from a knotted roap hanging solo from a different variety of banana plant. In reading more about this plant, this mini-football shape is actually the bud of the flower. Think monster caper bud. It grows at the tip. It is the male portion of the flower. Above you will see the bananas, the female flowers eventually producing fruit. Yes, the male and female flowers grow on the same plant. On the outside of the bud part below were bracts. These are the modified leaves growing around it (see the purple one extended in the photo below?). Sometimes bracts or sepals are non-showy on plants, while other times they are mistaken to be the actual flower petals. Sepals are leaflike structures around the petals. On this banana, the whole structure (except for the bananas) was alien like for I had never seen one before.
‘Maurelii’ appreciates full sun and can be grown in containers after the spring frost has passed. It is perfect for containers, with the one big consideration. You must ensure the size of the pot is large enough to accomodate the fast growth and its stalk’s large proportions. And because it can grow tall quickly, even up to 10 feet tall, you need a container that can keep the plant from tipping over. Container clients are provided information about the best size container before our class, and now they know why. And overwintering techniques are also discussed.
As I learned more about banana plants in Hawai’i, I read of a funny one that is called “the pregnant banana.” The fruit grows “inside” the stalk. This is a banana of the Musa spp. The stalk gets fatter until it looks ready for delivery. Should you be the person to see it near due, you can actually cut open (or deliver, LOL), the stalk to get the bananas! Now that is something I’d love to see. An emergency c-section on a plant! Cathy T