Saturday, February 4, 2012

Golden lotus banana gets a radical trim

The golden lotus banana (Musella lasiocarpa) in our front yard is one of my favorite plants in the summer when its bluish green paddle leaves bring a tropical flair to our garden.

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Musella lasiocarpa last August

Last year our Musella lasiocarpa flowered for the first time. The inflorescence lasted for a long time—all the way into early winter, in fact.

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Inflorescence on 6/28/11
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Inflorescence on 8/1/11
The actual flowers are the tiny things poking out of the yellow bracts

Its looks belie its cold-hardiness. While the leaves die back the first time we have a freeze, the corm itself is reported to be hardy to 10°F. However, in the winter Musella lasiocarpa is not exactly pretty to look at. The larger the clump gets, the more dead leaves there are.

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Tangle of dead leaves this morning before I removed them

The inflorescence, so magnificent just a few months ago, is now a study in browns.

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Inflorescence in late winter

The skirt of overlapping bracts below the inflorescence is actually quite beautiful, in an understated way.

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Dead bracts

Today, I decided that I didn’t want to look at the tangle of brown leaves anymore. Armed with pruners and a sharp bread knife, I did an Edward Scissorhands number on the clump. Since the pseudostem dies after flowering anyway, I cut it as close to the ground as I could using a bread knife—it sliced through the tissue as if were butter (it’s 90% water).

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Cleaned up clump
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What’s left of the pseudostem that had flowered

While it looks like there will be a big hole in the middle of the clump, the pseudostems on the outside will produce new leaves very quickly. By mid-summer you won’t be able to tell the difference.

To make sure our golden lotus banana gets off to a good start, I spread composted chicken manure all around the clump and worked it into the top of the soil. Hopefully we’ll get a few more decent rain storms soon. The extra water and the warmth of spring will lead to explosive new growth.

Musella lasiocarpa has been widely available the last few years. If you live in zone 8 or above, why don’t you give it a try?

8 comments:

  1. I've got this one on my list of plants to try this year. Too bad it's not easier to separate the pups from the mother plant, or this one would be easier to find in shops around here I'm sure.

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    1. I'll try to take another division for you in the spring once growth has resumed. I believe they're propagated via tissue culture these days. I even saw them at Home Depot last year.

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  2. I love this plant, and used to have one. It bloomed and was gorgeous. There were many pups around it, becoming quite the large clump. Then our freaky winter of 08/09 showed up and that was the end, or rather almost the end. By August of 09 there was one pseudostem back, putting on leaves. Then the winter of 09/10 took care of it.

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    1. So it's not quite as cold hardy as they claim? I never know who trust when it comes to stuff like that.

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    2. I think most zone 8 winters it would be okay. That particular winter was the first time we'd had sustained temps under freezing since we moved here in 2004. There was a week or more that it stayed under 32 day and night. It was a nightmare.

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  3. You've just helped re-sold this plant to me. We lost all our Musellas last winter and never bothered to get replacements last year. This year I'm thinking of getting one again, this plant looks so exotic and distinct from other bananas.

    It's such a prolific 'pup-per' too isn't it?

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    1. Regular bananas get so ratty in the high winds we often have. The leaves on Musella lasiocarpa are noticeably thicker and don't tear as easily. To me the whole plant looks neater and just as exotic as a Musa.

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  4. I bought three of them this spring and have them outside in the ground now. I also have many musas that do very well overwinter in NJ. I'll see how these do??????

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