Musa spp

Musa spp

 musa velutina

Ornamental Bananas

 Banana plants and their relatives come in several forms in New Zealand. The most spectacular and brilliant is Musa coccinea, syn Musa uranoscopus, the Red Torch Banana or Red Flowering Thai Banana, a slim-stemmed plant growing up to around three metres high and forming a clump with time. This species comes from Southern China and Southeast Asia and is grown entirely as an ornamental. The upright flower bracts are a very bright scarlet with the flowers in the bracts a golden yellow with green tips. These heads of flowers last very well as a cut flower even looking good after six weeks. I have seen Tuis taking nectar from them. I find it seldom sets whitish fruit in New Zealand and the occasional one that does set has only a few seeds in it. Like most banana species this one does appreciate a protected, warm area with free draining soils.

Another species is Musa velutina or Pink Velvet Banana which comes from North Eastern India and Assam. This one is a sturdier plant growing to a similar height and also has upright flowers, this time in pink. It forms pink-skinned fruit freely and these are packed full of seed. Nature helps the birds here as when the fruit is ripe the skin starts folding back from the pointed end and exposes the seeds covered with flesh. The birds can eat without peeling! I have had some plants grow as wildlings from bird distributed seeds so maybe take a little care with the ripe fruit, cut them off the plant before the birds get them. This species will handle a colder situation than M. coccinea.

To me an exciting new Banana relative which is just starting to become available is Musella lasiocarpa syn Musa lasiocarpa Chinese Banana or Golden Lotus Banana from China. This is a very cold hardy, deciduous plant which can even stand snow on it. It flowers at 1.5 metres and has a huge, yellow-gold, upwards growing, flower spike which takes up to a year to fully open. They do have very attractive leaves which do not shatter easily. This plant has never been found in the wild in China where it has been cultivated for many centuries. It is sometimes used there as food for pigs.