Go bananas

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Rarest of the three large banana-like Strelitzia species occurring in southern Africa, Strelitzia alba – known as the Cape wild banana – adds an architectural element to mid-size and large gardens.

Despite being a tropical plant in the Bird of Paradise family, it has the perfect attributes for West Coast conditions. Not only can it withstand seasonal gale-force winds, it also resists damage from salt-laden breezes and can grow in sandy soils. However, do improve the soil’s water-holding capacity by digging in compost and then mulching.

This clump-forming perennial, herbaceous plant grows to a lofty 10 m with the smooth-edged, elongated leaves measuring 2 m by 0.6 m. Strong winds can tatter the leaves, so cut these out every so often.

Flowering may be any time of the year but is usually between July and December. The striking white flowers lack the blue colour found in other species and believe me, birds go bonkers for the juice. A 30-cm long boat-shaped bract encloses five to ten flowers which emerge in sequence. The hermaphrodite flowers are zygomorphic and threefold.

There’s fruit too. It’s a woody capsule, splitting into three lobes to reveal black to brown, spherical seeds with a yellow/orange tufty aril. They usually ripen between October and February. Unlike other Strelitzia species, Strelitzia alba has a different set of 2n = 22 chromosomes.

Ref: pza.sanbi.org; worldoffloweringplants.com