More on Musa
We read lots about M. basjoo, but its giant cousin
Ensete ventricosum gets limited attention. Richard redresses the
Richard Willmer, Purley, Surrey, UK
Chamaerops No.26 Spring 1997
Chamaerops 11 contained an interesting article about
banana plants and in particular the Chinese Banana (Musa cavendishii).
This article describes the experience I have had in recent years
growing the Abyssinian Banana (Musa ensete (syn. Ensete ventricosum)).
These plants can be easily grown from seed and do not require any
special equipment to germinate them . They can be kept in home,
office or garden (when frost is not a danger). They grow quickly,
providing a rapid return on the investment in seeds and time.
In the early 1980s I worked in a building with south
facing glass windows which provided the ideal conditions for rapid
growth and one plant reached the ceiling (10ft/3m) in about 2 years.
People still ask if I have 'that enormous plant' (which was clearly
more memorable than any work I did). Some nurseries sell the seeds,
although less so now than a few years ago. However, they may be
purchased from the more specialist seed firms such as (in the UK
anyway) Chiltern Seeds and Thompson & Morgan.
Soak the seeds for 24-48 hours in warm water, and
then plant 2 or 3 to a pot one quarter of an inch (1cm) deep in
moist compost. Place the pot in a polythene bag to retain the moisture
and maintain a temperature of about 75ûF/22ûC (the top of the hot
water tank in the airing cupboard is a good place if no propagator
is available) . After 2 weeks check the pot every two days for signs
of germination. Once a seed has germinated it grows very quickly.
Remove carefully into another pot taking care not to damage the
plant, and place on a sunny window ledge (NB. regular checking of
the pot is vital as the new shoots grow quickly) The plants require
moist compost, warmth, light and room for the roots to grow. Under
these conditions they will grow very quickly. Pot on regularly,
particularly in the early months, to give the roots room to grow
(they will readily try to break out from the bottom of the pot)
. Ensure the compost does not become dry, particularly in warm weather.
Like palms, the plants grow by producing new leaves from the centre.
Old or damaged leaves may be cut oft to form the 'trunk'.
Indoors, they grow best in a sunny position, but can
become large in 12-18 months. Feed during the growing period and
reduce watering in winter as with other house plants. Outdoors the
plants will survive when there is no risk of frost. A sunny spot
sheltered from the wind is best (the leaves can easily be wind damaged).
During the summer they can produce a new leaf each week, and the
warmer the weather the larger the leaves. Feed regularly in the
late spring and summer.
Spring time is a good time of the year to plant the
seeds. A plant grown from seed one spring may be placed outside
from May to October and then brought inside as an indoor plant for
the winter. Placed outside during the next summer it may easily
grow to 6'/180cm. The following winter is a problem unless there
is space in the house or a conservatory is available. However, the
plant will survive low temperatures and could be placed in a cool
greenhouse or protected in some way from frost and snow. Old and
wind damaged leaves will become untidy in the autumn and can be
Given that the plants are easy and cheap to grow,
if there is nowhere to overwinter them they can be allowed to die
off. Growing new plants each spring will give a continuous supply.
In the garden in summer (either in pots or the ground) they make
unusual specimens with leaves up to 3' long and 12 inches across
produced in warm weather. They often have a dark maroon ribbing
along the middle. They sit well with cannas (which have similar
leaves) and with other 'exotics' such as palms and cordylines. They
also look good with summer bedding plants. None of the plants I
have grown has flowered or produced side shoots.
In some places it may be possible to keep them outside
during the winter. Plants which have hardened off outside seem to
survive temperatures down to 39ûF (+4ûC) quite readily, although
a hard frost will quickly kill them off. I have never managed to
keep them through the whole winter, however in mild winters, plants
have survived until January in sheltered parts of the garden. As
I write this article in December we have already had some sharp
frosts, but the plants have stayed alive, in a somewhat tatty condition,
in a protected corner by the house. I have also grown some Musa
velutina which make attractive pot plants in the summer, but which
seem less hardy than M. ensete and need to be brought inside in
cold weather. However, the plants do readily produce side shoots
which may be potted up.
09-07-20 - 22:57GMT
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