Saturday, March 19, 2011

Golden lotus banana waking up

The golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa), also called Chinese yellow banana, is among the hardiest ornamental bananas. Some reports claim it can survive down to 0°F. While hard to believe, it’s not impossible considering that it is believed to originate from the mountains of southwestern Yunnan province, China, where it was found at elevations up to 7,500 feet. Now extinct in the wild, it is still widely cultivated in China and Vietnam, often as fodder for pigs.

Hardiness in this context refers to the ability of the underground structure (the corm) to survive. The leaves are as tender as those of any banana; they “fry” at temperatures just below freezing.

Our golden lotus banana tripled in size last year. The central trunk now has a diameter of 9 inches at the base and there are a couple of dozen offspring, called “pups,” that grow in a tight cluster all around it. I don’t know when it will bloom, but eventually a swollen bud will arise from the main trunk and expose the artichoke-like golden lotus “flower” this plant is named after. Check this blog post for a detailed description.

Flower of yellow lotus banana
Image source: Wikipedia

This past winter, the leaves of our plant suffered the usual frost damage. I cut off the dead parts last weekend, and new leaves are already pushing out. Our plant certainly seems to be loving all the rain we’ve been having. In a few months, it will look as good as it did last year.

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At its peak last year (photo taken on 23 November 2010)
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Frost-damaged leaves (January 2011)

I bought our golden lotus banana at a UC Davis Arboretum plant sale three years ago—just one short trunk in a 1-gallon container. At the time it was considered a fairly unusual plant, but I’m happy to say that its availability has definitely improved since then. I’ve even seen it our local ACE hardware store.

While not as tall and impressive as other bananas, Musella lasiocarpa is ultimately a more rewarding plant for us gardeners below zone 10 because we don’t have to dig it up and store it inside for the winter. In addition, it’s a compact plant (about 4 feet in height) and hence a lot more versatile to use in the landscape than a 15 feet Musa or Ensete.

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The central trunk is already pushing
a fairly large new leaf
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Close-up of new leaf
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Pups growing around the central trunk

Note: The golden lotus banana is not a true (i.e. edible) banana (genus Musa) but it is closely related.

JUNE 2011 UPDATE: Click here to see photos of our golden lotus banana beginning to flower.

3 comments:

  1. Are you going to be removing any of those pups, or just letting them grow there?

    Also, I've never been certain about banana plants heights. Since the new growth always emerges from the top, it's got to keep gaining height every year, right? Perhaps it will eventually get large enough (4' tall?) to produce a flower, and then die.


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  2. That is one very cool plant! Please keep us posted so we can watch as it grows - and possibly flowers? The way that plant works reminds me of hens & chicks.

    anne

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  3. Alan, I'll leave the pups where they are for now. I separated pups from a Musa basjoo last year and ended up killing them all.

    The way I understand it, as the plant gets ready to flower, the trunk gets thicker and foliage production stops. Then the flower appears and that trunk dies, but the pups will carry on.

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