August 29, 2008

Going Bananas Over Fruity Rare Specimen ; Despite One of the Wettest British Summers on Record, Bunches of Bananas Have Grown on a Tree in Exeter for Only the Second Time in 20 Years.

By Alice Wright

Despite one of the wettest British summers on record, bunches of bananas have grown on a tree in Exeter for only the second time in 20 years.

Groundsmen at the University of Exeter were astonished to find the fruit growing on one of the trees in the Vice Chancellor's garden at Redcot.

This is only the second time in 20 years that banana trees at the university have fruited.

Bananas typically thrive in warm conditions and, although they need to be well watered, they do not generally like very wet conditions.

Andy Roke, who has tended this particular tree for the past 15 years, said: "This is a really special event for me and I'm absolutely delighted to see the tree flowering and setting fruit. Fifteen years of TLC has finally reaped its rewards and I'm glad that at least I've been responsible for that once in my career."

Sadly, the tree will probably now die but it will put out another root to grow nearby.

Mr Roke said: "Hopefully I won't have to wait another 15 years to see fruit again."

Guy Barter, head of the gardening advice service for the Royal Horticultural Society, said it had become increasingly common for banana trees to fruit outdoors in recent years, thanks to a number of mild winters.

He said: "Fifty years ago, no-one would have dreamt of growing banana trees outdoors in this country."

Banana trees in Devon do relatively well, Mr Barter said, because the county is "that much milder and less prone to frosts". He added that they grew even better in Cornwall. Mr Barter said this particular tree had probably now produced bananas because it had "summoned up the energy and resources" to fruit. He said it was excellent news and he hoped it would provide inspiration to everybody growing banana trees in the region.

Bananas are not technically speaking trees - their tall, upright stem is called a pseudostem, literally meaning "fake stem". For some species this can reach up to eight metres, with leaves of up to 3.5 metres in length.

Each pseudostem can produce a bunch of yellow, green, or even red bananas before dying and being replaced by another pseudostem.

The banana fruit grow in hanging clusters, with up to 20 fruit to a tier (called a hand), and between three and 20 tiers to a bunch.

The total of the hanging clusters is known as a bunch, or commercially as a "banana stem", and can weigh from 30 to 50kg.

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.