The fruit of the pink banana, Musa velutina, are about the size of banana lollies and are hot pink and furry. Sadly they are even less edible than the lolly bananas. Why grow bananas you can’t eat? For me, the big pink bud and mad fruit are reason enough. Add the lime green leaves and the oddness of the whole Musa family in general, and they are irresistible.
Bananas are the largest herbaceous flowering plants in the world. They grow from a corm (like a ranunculus or gladioli) and what looks like the trunk is actually a sheath of leaves. The flower stem emerges from the centre of this sheath once the plant is mature. The flower, which in edible varieties is as delicious as the fruit, becomes a giant bell of hundreds of bananas, usually held in hands. The plant then dies, having first produced offshoots, called daughter plants, to continue the family tradition.
You can see my little stand of pink bananas here, with one flower and a hand of furry hot pink fruit.
The best-known edible banana is ‘Cavendish’. Almost half the world’s commercially grown bananas are ‘Cavendish’ but there are somewhere between 500 and a 1000 named cultivars in cultivation, so there is much room for increasing the diversity in our fruit bowls. ‘Cavendish’ fruits well in Sydney, ripening slowly to deliver fantastic flavour. The more water and organic richness you can provide, the bigger the yield.
Ornamental bananas are outlawed in Queensland due to the threat to commercial growers of banana bunchy top. That sounds like a joke but it’s a serious viral disease spread by banana aphids. Here in Sydney ornamental bananas are legal and lovely, so also growing in my garden is Musa zebrina, whose leaves are splotched with patches the colour of aged burgundy, and which look great waving like flags in a gentle summer breeze. Anything stronger than a breeze though and those lovely leaves get ripped to rags, so plant them in a protected spot.
The other banana I grow is the huge monster Ensete ventricosum, also called Abyssinian banana. (That’s a baby one behind the M. zebrina, both on the left in the picture above.) Each leaf is 3-5m long and up to a metre wide, with a hot pink rib down the middle. It follows the golden rule on bananas – edibles have downward-hanging flowers while ornamentals hold their flowers upright – and the fruit that develops from the downward-hanging flower is technically edible but not really palatable. Here in our land of plenty it’s grown for its dramatic good looks only, but in its Ethiopian homeland it’s an important crop. Ethiopians eat the tender central part of the growing tip; pulverise and ferment the starchy trunk then turn it into a ‘bread’; and use the fresh corm like a potato. I didn’t know this about the Abyssinian banana when my last one flowered so all I fed was the compost. When my next one is mature I’ll experiment – ornamental and edible? Stay tuned.