Monday, September 15, 2014

Species Spotlight: Pink Banana

Photo by Kaitlin Henderson
By Kaitlin Henderson

You may not have noticed this this big-leafed plant earlier in the year, but it’s drawing attention to itself now. It’s a banana plant (Musa velutina, the pink banana or pink velvet banana), and the pink areas are its flowers and fruit!

Photo by Kaitlin Henderson
The pink banana is native to Southeast Asia, and you can find it in Duke Gardens' Culberson Asiatic Arboretum. Despite being pretty far north of the tropics, it grows very well here in Durham. The plant dies back in the winter and grows back every spring, producing the bright flowers and fruits you can see right now. 

The fruit will be on the plant until the first significant frost, so you have some time to get out and see it – I definitely recommend stopping by, as it’s eye-catching and fun to look at. If you come back earlier in the summer next year, you can try to catch the earlier flower that precedes the fruit.

Photo by Paul Jones
The fruit is quite different from the regular grocery store bananas you might be used to. They are small and nearly filled with pea-sized seeds, making them generally inedible. Some people here at the Gardens have tried them despite that. Asiatic Arboretum curator Paul Jones described the taste as not inviting but not repulsive, either. Hope Wilder, assistant education program coordinator, said the fruit was very starchy and a little bit sweet, but she didn’t much enjoy how seedy they were. That’s probably why they’re mostly used as decorative plants rather than for food.

The Pink Banana is one of the smaller banana plants. The other ones grown in the Gardens are three or four times as large. The Asiatic Arboretum has several other banana species, including the hardy Japanese banana (Musa basjoo) that you can see along the path through the Japanese-style gate as you enter from the Rose Garden.

Blogger Kaitlin Henderson is a student in Duke's Master of Arts in Liberal Studies (MALS) program.

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