Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Quesnelia lateralis

Quesnelia lateralis has an upright to slightly arching inflorescence of vivid red and blue. In early winter, the spike rises to about the same height as the foliage. Flowering seems to be best on specimens that have formed clumps of at least 4-5 plants. The blue flowers emerge in succession over a period of about a week or so, with the red portion of the inflorescence lasting a bit longer. In all, you might get about three week's worth of color.

The plant has an upright growth habit, reaching a height of about 1 1/2 feet. Leaves are solid green on the upper surface and the underside shows some random banding patterns in the trichome arrangement. The leaf margins have small spines along the entire length.
Mine are currently growing in morning sun and afternoon shade, but I've also had them in full afternoon sun where they did fine.
Several hours at 26°F hasn't bothered them during winter cold snaps.

Related species profiles:
Quesnelia arvensis
Quesnelia liboniana
Quesnelia quesneliana
Quesnelia testudo

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Banana (Musa)

The many varieties of edible bananas all belong to the genus Musa. They are actually fast-growing tropical herbs, without a woody trunk or branches. Their large leaves lend a tropical look to any landscape, and their fast growth helps them bounce back fast after a hard freeze. Each leaf starts at ground level and grows up through the stem until it unfurls at the top. A few varieties have colorful foliage and are used mainly as ornamental plants.
Leaves on some varieties grow up to 8-10 feet long. The leaves can be used to wrap foods during cooking and they add flavor to the foods cooked inside them.
Plants multiply by means of underground rhizomes, so one plant becomes many over a period of years.
Growth and fruit production will be best if you allow only 2-3 stalks per clump to develop. Cut off any extras.
According to the California Rare Fruit Growers, most bananas flower after forming approximately 44 leaves. Dwarf varieties still send out the same number of leaves before flowering, they simply have shorter stems than tall-growing varieties. When the flower bud emerges from the top of the stalk, it is a massive arrangement of overlapping purple bracts that may weigh several pounds.
The bracts lift and fall away one at a time, revealing rows of flowers. I like to use the fallen bracts as salad bowls or fruit cups at tropical-themed parties.
Female flowers appear first and small bananas are already present at the base of each one. Fruits develop without any need for pollination.
After several rows of females, the male flowers appear and can continue for weeks or months on a slowly elongating stem below the developing fruit. Once the male flowers start, the bud can be cut off and eaten. There are many banana flower bud recipes available online.
Plants can bloom at any time of the year, but they will need 4-5 months of warm weather after flowering for the fruit to fully develop. Once the first bananas start to ripen, the entire stalk is cut and brought inside for easier daily picking of the ripe fruit.

Bananas are native to southeast Asia, but are grown in tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. They are durable plants that survive heat, drought, flood-waters and freeze, but they perform best in a consistently warm, moist environment. Plant in nutrient-rich soils and full sun for best growth.
Here's a short video of one of my banana plantings:

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Monstera deliciosa

The huge, dark green leaves of Monstera deliciosa bring a tropical look to any landscape or home interior. In tropical and subtropical areas this plant is often seen growing up the trunks of large trees. The leaves get larger as the plant increases in size, and the deep splits and holes become more pronounced. Mature leaves can be 3 feet long and 2 feet wide.
The stem of the plant sends out aerial roots that attach to any vertical support, allowing the plant to climb upward. Some of the roots extend from high in a tree all the way to the ground where they branch out and take nutrients directly to the top of the plant.

Given a tall enough tree, the vine can climb 70 feet or more.
In locations where Monstera is successfully grown outside, they flower and produce an edible fruit. The bloom is a large white spathe and spadix arrangement typical of most members of the Araceae family of plants. Flowering occurs in summer and, unlike many tropical plants that quickly mature their fruit, this species takes 14 months from bloom to edible fruit.
The fruit itself grows to about 8-10 inches in length and is covered with green hexagonal scales.

When the scales start to separate, it's time to pick the fruit and bring it inside.
Beneath each scale is a small individual segment of fruit. When the fruit is ripe, the scales loosen and start to fall off. Inside is a delicious white flesh that almost melts in your mouth.
The flavor is unique, but it is often described as a blend of pineapple and banana. It has a soft, slippery texture like mango. The black specks are part of the ripening process, but if you are squeamish, they are easily rinsed off under running water. Only the portion of the fruit where scales have fallen off is edible. Unripe parts contain high levels of oxalic acid and eating those portions is an extremely unpleasant experience, causing irritation of the mouth and throat.  It takes several days to consume the entire thing. Enclosing the whole fruit in a paper bag helps it all ripen at once.
Monstera deliciosa is native to the tropical jungles of Central America from southern Mexico to Panama. As a houseplant, it is quite tolerant of dry air and moderate to low light levels. As a landscape plant, it is recommended for USDA Zones 10-11. Mine are quite successful in Zone 9B, and regularly produce fruit anytime from summer to late fall. Bright shade and evenly moist soil produces the best-looking foliage.