Musa”’’s, (Bananas) are the world”’’s biggest herbaceous plants, and approximately fifty species may be found from equatorial Africa, India and Southeast Asia to Northern Australia. The banana family, Musaceae also includes the genus Ensete with 6 different species. Species and cultivars from higher altitudes or latitudes incline to have the best success for cultivating outside in the UK.
Musa bear large, paddle-shaped leaves that are inclined to shredding caused by the wind, an instinctive damage-limitation device to keep the whole leaf being broken away in tropical storms. The leaves break up into parallel strips at right angles to their stout central midrib, which although will eventually look untidy, they still function as they should. Wind resistance and strength varies substantially between species and cultivars.
The stout central “pseudostem” that is often referred to as the trunk (and therefore leads to bananas being regarded as trees) is not woody, but comprises of tightly wrapped leaf bases.(botanically classed as a pseudostem. The developing point, at the tip of the true stem, remains deep inside the pseudostem at the base of the leaves, and in this respect bananas are broadly speaking similar to the bearded iris and canna family. Each shoot is monocarpic (flowers, set seeds and then dies), but basal suckers take its place.
Bananas have long been grown for their fruit, and across the centuries hybrids have been developed that bear seedless fruit without pollination and fertilisation (parthenocarpy), as seed-containing fruit are generally considered as inedible.
Bananas in the UK Garden
All the Musa and Ensete species make dramatic, large specimen plants and are generally put to use as such in permanent landscapes or seasonal displays, where their presence without any effort provokes the atmosphere of exotic climates. They look impressive whether planted en masse, (unfortunately seldom seen in the UK). or even in a large pot on the patio (having the extra advantage that it can be brought indoors during our cold and wet British winters.
Ideal as the backbone or centrepiece of semitropical displays, bananas blend comfortably with other showy tender species, providing a foil for the flowers of Canna (particularly cultivars with coloured leaves such as C. ””Striata””), dahlias and Eucomis, and also contrasting against the foliage of the bamboos, palms and Ricinus communis (castor oil plant).
Bananas suitable for growing in the UK.
Although by no means exhaustive, the following is a list of cultivars that given adequate protection throughout the winter (see our separate article – overwintering our Banana plant), the right conditions and a bit of “tender loving care” should survive our British weather and reward you with a stunning display:
Musa basjoo (probably the easiest to grow)
Ensete (Species of Ensete are closely related to Musa, botanically separated by the fact that Ensete species do not normally produce suckers) :