In my wildlife food plots this fall, I planted clover, oats and bananas.
You read correctly: bananas. Trees, that is.
They’re not really for the wildlife, unless I have an errant troop of monkeys I don’t know about. They’re just for our visual enjoyment.
It all started this summer when people noticed that one of my food plots looks like a clearing in a tropical jungle. Shortly after that, I tuned into a World War II movie set in a tropical jungle, and it looked exactly like my clearing, except the movie scene had banana trees.
Click! That’s just what I needed.
It happened that Williamson Nursery of Summit had a sale on banana trees about that time, so I loaded up.
Owner Stephen Porter thought my idea sounded fine. He said you can plant banana trees just about any time up until frost. When the cold kills them back, cut them off at the ground, pile mulch on top, and they’ll come back in the spring.
To plant them, dig not only a hole but chop up the ground all around. The roots will spread like crazy, he said.
He doubted wildlife would bother the trees, and said we might well get fruit.
I was so enthused I told Angelyn we should clearcut the Outback and start a banana plantation, but she nixed that idea.
Nevertheless, we did plant some banana trees in the clearing along with the clover and oats. With the recent cold spell I’ll probably have to cut them back, but that’s OK. I’ll look forward to them coming back next spring.
Around about the same time, I got a call from Georgia Bullock, who lives on Saunders Street in east McComb. She was calling about the nice big bunch of bananas growing on her tree. Naturally, I went out to take a look.
Bullock got a piece of the tree from her sister-in-law, Nancy Johnson of Fernwood. Johnson had planted it in 1990, but it rarely fruited.
In June of last year, Bullock moved to her current address and planted a three-foot stalk in her back yard, which is well protected from wind on all sides but gets good sunshine. The soil is rich, too.
“I was putting everything from the kitchen in that spot: coffee grounds, tomatoes, cabbage,” Bullock said. “There is no fertilizer in that spot, just organic.”
New sprouts came up right away. When cold killed the tree last winter, she cut it back to a stump.
“By springtime it started growing, sprouting out of the stump,” Bullock said. “I’ve never seen it get this big.”
The tree produced a big, droopy purple flower that eventually turned into a clump of fruit, the first time her tree has produced bananas. Another purple flower is still dangling.
Bullock did some research and learned the fruit can be picked green and placed in a brown paper sack to ripen, or a plastic bag for quicker results.
As for me, banana trees in my food plot can potentially save me a lot of money. I used to spend thousands of dollars to travel to tropical countries looking for adventure. These banana trees are helping me create my own tropical country, no airfare required, not to mention passport or security clearance.
Here are some popular varieties, according to the Mississippi State University Extension Service:
• Japanese Fiber, widely considered to be the most cold-tolerant banana selection. In coastal counties it can reach up to 10 feet tall; other locations 5 feet tall.
• Thai Black banana, one of the fastest growing landscape bananas, with a deep, dark purple coloration on the trunk. Some specimens reach more than 15 feet tall.
• Siam Ruby, one of the prettiest selections with a rich burgundy color on the stem. Will probably reach 4 to 5 feet tall. More suited to Zones 8 and 9 and will die back to the ground each winter.
• Bordelon banana. Leaves adorned with maroon splotches. Back is solid red, which is very visible as the new leaves begin to unfurl. Based on trial data, Bordelon may be the most cold-tolerant of the red-striped banana varieties.
• Red Abyssinian. Leaves bright green with a red midrib. Plants of this type do not produce offsets or pups; after flowering, they will die. Outstanding banana to grow in a large container.