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MUSA: BANANAS AND PLANTAINS

Tropical Fruiting and Ornamental Plants of Distinction

Vigorous, treelike herbaceous plants, natives of warm countries, which are suitable for outdoor cultivation in the United States in only the warmer parts of Florida and other essentially frost-free places, although if fruit is not the objective they may be cultivated somewhat further north. In colder areas they are suitable for growing in a hothouse, or for planting out of doors in the summer months for the decorative value of the large and handsome leaves. They belong to the family Musaceae. The name honors Antonins Musa, physician to Augustus Caesar, the first emperor of Rome.

Cultivation. Musas need rich soil that is kept always fairly moist throughout the season of active growth and is never permitted to dry entirely. For the best results the soil should contain liberal amounts of humus—preferably rich compost or rotted manure.

Specimens grown in pots or tubs should be repotted, or if the plants are already in containers as large as can conveniently be handled, they should be top-dressed each spring. The greenhouse temperature for most should be a night minimum of 60 degrees in winter and at least 10 degrees higher from spring through fall. M. Ensete and M. Basjoo will stand lower temperatures.

If they are kept indoors, light shade from strong summer sunshine should be provided, but plants set outdoors for the summer will stand full sun. Well-rooted specimens grown in containers benefit immensely from weekly applications of dilute liquid fertilizer. Keep the at on all clear days with generous amounts of water.

In frost-free or nearly frost-free warm climates, Musas planted for ornament are seen to best advantage when planted where they are somewhat sheltered from sweeping winds, which are likely to tear the huge leaves to shreds. Rich soil and sufficient moisture at the roots are requirements for real success.

The Common Banana. The well-known Common Banana is botanically M. paradisiaca subspecies sapientum. It grows 15-20 ft. tall and bears agreeably flavored, nourishing, seedless fruits that are edible without cooking. It exists in many distinct varieties; most have yellow skins but some are colored red. Among better-known varieties are Gros Michel, Red Jamaica, Apple, Orinoco and Champa (Lady-Finger Banana). Variety vittatum has its foliage beautifully variegated with white and pink. The Common Banana is derived from an Asiatic species.

The Dwarf Banana, M. nana, or M. Caven- dishii as it was at one time called, is a native of southern China that bears most excellently flavored Bananas that are eaten without cooking. This species grows only about 6 ft. tall and is readily propagated by offsets. It does not produce seeds. This is one of the most popular kinds for outdoor cultivation in the deep South, and it is a most excellent kind for growing in large tubs in warm greenhouses, where, with a little attention, it fruits freely. See Banana.

The Plantain is a species of Musa that grows about 30 ft. tall and produces green or greenish- yellow seedless fruits that are edible after cooking. It is not much grown in the continental United States but in most tropical countries it forms a staple article of diet.

The Plantain is M. paradisiaca and is most probably a native of India.

Manila Hemp or Abaca is a valuable fiber, the product of M. textilis. It is produced commercially in the Philippines, of which islands M. textilis is native. M. textilis grows to a height of about 20 ft., and its inedible fruits contain many black seeds. Except as a specimen in a botanical garden or other educational plantings, M. textilis is rarely cultivated in America.

In southern Japan yet another species, M. Basjoo, is cultivated as a source of fiber which is used for making coarse fabrics, and in Africa M. Ensete is similarly employed. Both of these are described in detail below.

Ornamental Kinds. All of the Musas are noble plants and are of great value for creating tropical effects in gardens. Some are grown particularly for such purposes.

One of the commonest of these is the Abyssinian Banana, M. Ensete, a species which, at maturity, reaches a height of 40 ft. and has leaves 20 ft. long. The fruits are inedible but the large black seeds they contain afford an easy means of raising a stock of plants. Decorative small specimens can be raised from seeds sown in a tropical greenhouse in January, and may be set outdoors in the summer garden by June. This kind is a native of Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

M. rosacea, from India, is a dwarf kind that usually grows about 6 ft. tall and has prettily colored bracts as an attraction when the plants
are in bloom. M. sumatrana attains a height of about 8 ft. Its leaves are glaucous beneath.

M. zebrina is distinguished by the beautiful markings of bronze-purple or chocolate-red that occur as irregularly scattered stripes and bands on the leaves. This plant may be a variety of M. sumatrana or of M. malaccensis. It grows about 10 ft. tall and is easily propagated by means of suckers.

M. Basjoo is a native of the islands just south of Japan, the Ryukyu Islands. It grows about 10 ft. tall and, like M. Ensete, is somewhat more resistant to cold than most kinds. It forms offsets freely and in Japan is a source of fiber.

M. coccinea, native of Vietnam, has fiery crimson bracts and yellow flowers. It is very attractive in bloom

 



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