Tetrapanax papyriferus is a rapid growing tropical looking soft/woody perennial from the jungles of Taiwan. It is mostly evergreen in zones 8+, but is root hardy into negative temperatures (zones 6+). Large deeply lobed green/grey leaves are held up by long stalks. The stalks of the Rice Paper Plant can grow to 15 feet with leaves 2 feet wide. Small plants will form thickets in very little time, often sprouting new plants 10-20 feet from the mother plant through it’s extensive root system. Because of this it is invasive in warm climates. In early fall, creamy beige flowers will form on stalks attracting bees and butterflies.
History And Uses: Steroid Giant originates from Taiwan where the soft inner stem is used to make high quality rice paper.
Propagation: Steroid Giant is propagated by seed, suckers, and cuttings.
Planting Location: Locations with well drained soil and medium sunlight will produce the healthiest plants. Applying an even spread of mulch on and around the plant and allowing sufficient drainage will increase survivability through winter months in colder zones. The large leaves and stalks are susceptible to wind damage, so planting near a fence or the side of a house will provide protection. Plant new plants early in the season to establish strong plants.
Fertilization: Surface application of rotted organic matter (such as manure or compost) will grow healthy plants. A balanced fertilizer can be mixed with water and applied around the stalks.
Care: Dead stalks and leaves should be pruned and added to the soil as mulch. Because of it’s invasive habit, unwanted pups should be pulled up.
Alocasia Gigantea ,also known as “Giant Elephant Ear”, “Giant Taro” and “Thailand Giant, is highly regarded as the largest and most stunning Colocasia available. Small plants will grow rapidly, often growing to 5-9′ tall in one season. The leaves of Thailand Giant will grow to 5′ long and 4′ wide when provided ideal locations. The leaves are a beautiful light green/powdery grey color atop 2-4′ stems.
History And Uses: Colocasia Gigantea (more specifically elephant ear in general) has been cultivated in Asia and Polynesia for over 10,000 years! The leaves and roots are cooked and eaten as a staple crop in tropical regions.
Propagation: Because these are Colocasias rather than Alocasias, they do not form a true corm or rhizome. The roots in the ground will eventually swell to form a corm like structure, but will never form the true taro tuber eaten through Asia and the pacific islands. Because of this it is propagated both by the division of pups and by seed (much like the banana plant).
Musa Basjoo is a species of banana commonly grown through the world for it’s exceptional cold hardiness and lush foliage. When established Basjoo regularly survives zone 7+ winters (10° F) without protection. Basjoo will survive down to zone 5 or 4 (-20°F+) with proper winter protection techniques described later in the article.
History And Uses: Basjoo originates from the Sichuan province of Southern China. It goes by the names “Fiber banana”, “Hardy banana”, and “Japanese banana”. It has been cultivated for centuries for it’s fibers which are used to make “bashōfu” (banana cloth). The rhizomes, stem juice, leaves, flowers, and fruits are used in traditional Chinese medicine.
Propagation: Bananas produce both pups (developed baby rhizomes that sprout from the main root, also refereed to as suckers or buttons) and seed.
- Pups should only be removed when at least 24 inches tall to insure sufficient root development. To divide a banana pup from it’s mother plant dig around the baby rhizome to reveal the point where it is attached to the larger plant. Using a clean sharp knife cut through the attaching root material tangentially to the arc of the main stalk and set in a shady dry place for 2-3 days. After drying choose a location with fertile well drained soil and preferably some type of wind protection (such as the side of a house or a wall). Dig a hole 6-12 inches deep and bury the pup to it’s original depth ensuring none of the roots are left exposed. Keep the soil damp but not soaking wet until established. This should be done in spring/early summer for an optimum chance of survival.
- Seeds should be soaked in tepid water for 24 hours prior to planting to bring the embryo out of dormancy. While soaking the water should be changed 2-3 times. Sow the seeds in a tray of well drained potting mix at a depth of ¼ inch. Cover the tray and place in a warm location. Germination is usually slow and erratic, occurring between 1 and 6 months. As each seed sprouts, carefully remove it from the tray being careful not to disrupt the delicate root system, and plant it in the ground or in a pot depending on weather conditions or the current season.
- Potted nursery plants should be planted the same way as pups. Prepare the planting location by digging a hole 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep. Fill the hole about three quarters deep with a rich organic compost and perlite mixture. The ratio should be about 80% compost and 20% perlite to allow good drainage. Carefully remove the plant from the pot by tapping on the bottom, rather than pulling on the actual plant. Bury the plant up to it’s original depth and water thoroughly. Keep the soil damp but not soaked until established.
Planting Location: Choose a spot that is both warm and sunny. An optimum location should receive about 12 hours of sunlight daily and offer some protection from wind (basjoo leaves are tender and tend to shred in windy locations). Banana roots will rot in standing water so drainage should be provided for the plants before planting. They prefer soil with a PH between 5.6 and 7.5. When planting more than one, try and keep the trees spaced about 10 feet apart to minimize competition for nutrients and sunlight.
Fertilization: Bananas are very heavy feeders when it comes to fertilizer. They will reward you with large leaves and thick strong trunks with regular applications of either water soluble plant food or organic fertilizer. These should be applied about once every week or two during times of active growing. Banana trees should not be fertilized during cold weather and should be kept fairly dry until temperatures begin to warm and growth begins to emerge.
- Organic fertilizers such as rotted manure or kelp solution should be added to the soil surrounding the plant.
- Water soluble fertilizers (such as miracle grow) should be mixed in a watering can at a dilution of 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Apply a balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10 or 20-20-20).
Here are links to a few recommended fertilizers:
Care: Aside from watering and applying fertilizer when required bananas don’t need frequent attention. When bottom leaves die they can be trimmed off and placed around the plant as mulch.
Overwintering: In zones 4-6 it is a good idea to protect Basjoo trees during the winter to ensure they survive frigid temperatures.
Another technique used in colder climates is to bury your banana plant below the frost line of the soil. To do this you must keep your banana plant potted until it grows 2-3 feet tall. Dig a hole about a foot deep and twice as wide as the root ball. Place the banana plant in the hole and bury the plant, leaving about a foot of stem above the soil line. This in addition to applying a good layer of mulch will give your banana tree a good chance of surviving the winter and sprouting to life in the spring.
Final Thoughts:Musa Basjoo is an exceptional addition to the home landscape or a business. It is the most cold hardy banana you can buy and, with proper care, will come back year after year forming a large clump of beautiful foliage and thick trunks. The leaves grow to an astonishing 6-8 feet long and sometimes have stripes of light red. In warmer zones the Basjoo will flower and possibly form fruit (the fruit is inedible and seedy).