trillianh(GW 9 /Sunset 15 /Nor CA)September 28, 2010

Well I had replied to a message on the trade page to someone who had a banana plant to share but it seems she could not ship to Cali from her state. So my fellow Californians do you know what type of banana's we can grow here, Northern Cali, specifically bay area? It would have to be a miniature tree and I am looking at eating them right off the tree, so sweet is preferred.

Also does anyone have some pups (baby banana plants) to share???

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I am intrigued, didn't know that we could grow banana in the bay area.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 1:34AM
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Bananas require a lot of water, too much to be worth growing in southern California. Maybe where you are you get enough water. Also a frost will kill the plant. It took two years for my banana plants to make one bunch of tiny terrible tasting bananas. In Sri Lanka where I lived for a year banana plants grow two or three feet a week. But there the water table was a few feet down and it rained quite often.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 3:16AM
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calistoga_al ca 15 usda 9

For a tropical look in the summer, bananas are fun. To grow for fruit or for more than one summer you will need a heated greenhouse, here in northern California. Al

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 9:06AM
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trillianh(GW 9 /Sunset 15 /Nor CA)

Yes they are a bit picky as they don't care to be under 80 or above 100 degrees and they like it humid with little wind. Thats ok though, I have a few other very finicky tropical plants that need to come inside and outside, inside and outside, but the rewards are worth it.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 12:11PM
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wanda(Z9 CA)

Monterey Bay Nursery (a wholesale nursery) has this extensive page of info. They supply nurseries, so any nursery that buys from them could special order for you. Here is there info.

Musa BANANA California Rare Fruit Growers planting at Quail Botanic Gardens ornamental plants ranging from small (3') to large (50'+). They all seem to be evergreen perennials, giant herbs, unless they are cut down by frost. Musaceae. rev 12/2006

(ornamental varieties are described below, after fruiting varieties)

Edible Banana and Plantain fruting Dwarf Orinoco mat, High Street, Santa Cruz dwarf variety used as an ornamental, Santa Cruz as tropical foliage effect at the Huntington, with gingers and heliconia pre-bloom "paddle" leaf quick instructions: buy several well adapted varieties, plant them in full sun in rich soil in Sunset zones 8-9, 15-24, or with at least partial overhead protection in colder zones, water and feed regularly, and keep the pups down to NONE, or one only if you just can't stand it, until the mother has fruited. When the flower spike emerges it will set fruit at the base, these will take a few months to ripen and will turn light green when ready. Cut one horizontal spray ("hand") off at a time, place in a bowl with other fruit, and eat when yellow. Other short, basic instructions for banana culture can be found in the "the bible," the Sunset Western Garden Book. For the full sermon as I preach it, keep reading.

Much of the more extensive information below has come from my own experience, educational sources, and discussion with other enthusiasts about their hands-on experience, especially the irrepressible Jeff Earl, who regularly fruits several varieties at his home in Modesto, David Johnson, who does the same in Waterford, and Ben McNeill, a small commercial grower in relatively cool New Zealand.

Derived from at least two and possibly several species, market bananas are sterile, usually polyploid (multiple chromosomes) hybrids. Recent genetic work indicates that highland New Guinea may be the original center of banana cultivation. Varieties new to the developed world but long in cultivation there are still being discovered, and new species keep popping up in Southeast Asia and around the South Pacific. They are an extremely important food crop worldwide, especially in developing and tropical countries. Bananas serve as an important source of starch, in which it is ranked fourth in importance worldwide after rice, wheat, and corn. For those of us in the First World bananas are a tropical fruit commodity, but for many poor people in Third and Fourth Worlds they are a critical staple. Besides being consumed fresh, in many societies they are important for cooking, roasting, and even brewing beer.

In spite of its ubiquity and importance the exact botany and history of the modern edible banana is actually not well known. The exact role of the almost fifty wild species in its development is still being probed. With modern genetic analytic tools we may be able to trace the historic path of its development.

Breeding there are several efforts around the world aimed at improving banana fruit quality and growing characteristics. While none are specifically aimed at making them easier to grow in climatically marginal areas such as ours, we benefit peripherally from these efforts since many of the improvements serve to shorten the growing cycle, increase climatic adaptability, and increase disease resistance. There are programs in Brazil and South Africa, for example, but the best known source of new varieties has been FHIA, the Fundacion Hondure�a Investigaci�n Agricola. Their primary mission is reduction of poverty through increasing yields and limiting losses for this critical food plant. North American hobbyists benefit greatly from these efforts. In return we pass information back to these organizations on growing bananas outside their normal historic climate zones, especially colder areas, and benefit those organizations in their quest to better the lives of their beneficiaries.

Edible bananas are classed by genetic grouping, and will usually have an included shorthand notation reference with their name, such as AAA, AB, ABB, BBB, etc. This refers to the presumed or known parentage, based on Musa acuminata (A, which tends to produce sweet fruit and want to grow warm) and M. balbisiana (B, which tends to produce starchy fruit and can grow cooler). Hybrids between them, either diploid (AB, two chromosomes, one from Musa A and one from Musa B) or polyploid (AAB, ABBB), are sterile, which is why commercial bananas usually don't have the large, obnoxious seeds found in the edible wild species.

The International Institute of Tropical Agriculture divides the groups as follows:

AAA - dessert, highland beer and cooking bananas
AAB - plantains and dessert bananas
ABB - cooking bananas

However there yet are other groups, and even within specific groups there are subgroups such that some AAB types are cold tolerant whereas others aren't, some ABBs are good eaten fresh while others are better cooked, etc.

Growing Cycle Dwarf Orinoco just beginning to flower a giant perennial herb, bananas start as pups and usually grow one year and fruit the next. They seem to have a rather well-defined number of leaves that must develop before fruiting (12-25?), although that number varies by variety and maybe by climate as well, and there seem to be juvenility issues to overcome. As a general rule, the plants usually flower around 18 months after starting, with the spike pushing up through the center of the mother plant. The spike emerges upright then arches over towards the ground, then the fruits form from the base of the spike (near the top of the plant) to the pendant tip (near the ground). The fruit develop without pollination.

Even if they don't fully ripen, bananas make wonderful, fast growing, Jack and the Beanstalk novelties that delight appreciative garden visitors of all ages. Plants can range from 3' (�High Color Mini,� and �Super Dwarf Cavendish,� very tender, warm growing novelty types) to 20-25' (�Ele Ele,� a very ornamental fruiting type), with the majority in the 7-12' range. Also you want at least four leaves on a plant to develop the fruit once the flower spike emerges. Plants which flower when almost leafless tend to not be able to fill the fruits, though in warmer climates, and on plants with multiple pups, they may succeed.

IMPORTANT: It seems the major cultural practice that leads to success in fruting bananas in the tropics is to control the number and vigor of pups lest they steal all the energy the mother stalk needs to finish the fruiting cycle. This is much more important in our marginal climates. This is probably the major factor that keeps amateurs from succeeding with bananas. Most banana mats are untended groves bent on devoting most of their energy to increasing size. If you want fruit, you have to control the pups.

Growing Conditions wind shredded foliage, Lighthouse Point the tropical-grown bananas of commerce, �Cavendish� or �Dwarf Cavendish� and their derived cultivars, need relatively warm conditions to thrive, and will tend to fail under cold, wet, winter soil conditions. They also tend to be damaged at higher winter temperatures, often in the mid thirties Fahrenheit. They will tend to choke, a condition describing the failure of the flower spike to emerge the following spring. This can occur either from damage due to low temperatures chilling or killing the internal growing point, or lack of vigor to push through damaged, dried, frost-collapsed leaves and pseudotrunk tissue left over from winter. In either case, the plant will fail to complete the flowering/fruiting cycle. Varieties resistant to choking, more tolerant of cold, wet winter soils, able to take lower winter temperatures (near freezing) before being damaged, or able to ripen under cooler conditions (for coastal growers) form the backbone of the list best experimented with by California gardeners. Those are the varieties we concentrate on providing.

Warmer areas will probably grow sweeter fruit, but if you are cooler than the Central Valley or Southern California, don't give up hope: in consumer testing in Australia, color was better on fruit from Sydney (subtropical, warmer than San Diego) but flavor was better from near Melbourne (more temperate, cooler than Modesto). According to commercial grower Ben McNeill of New Zealand, "This suggests to me that those of us near the edge of the climatic tolerance of bananas actually have a flavor advantage compared to the tropical growers." You may get better fruit off the mat (the name for a cluster of banana stems) in your back yard than you can buy from the store!

What about frost? cold russeted bananas, Lighthouse Point let's face it, bananas don't like frost, they would rather do without it. But they can still be overwintered in most areas in California most years because our hard freezes are either infrequent or of short duration. As far as the "cold tolerant" varieties are concerned it doesn't matter much if they lose all their leaves, or if the trunks freeze down a bit under the assault of repeated winter frosts. There is so little light energy available during the three months of winter that the plants are essentially standing still anyway, from a growth perspective. They will flush out and grow quickly once the weather warms in late winter or early spring. All that is important is that the meristem (tissue at the center of the stalk that will form the flowers/fruit) doesn't freeze in order to finish the fruiting cycle. Since most bananas make lots of growth during the growing season, and their trunk gets to be quite substantial, it takes quite a freeze to freeze it all the way through. How much protection they need to keep that from happening will vary depending on where the bananas are being grown.

It is probably possible to regularly fruit some varieties as far north as Portland (Sunset zone 6!!) most years if the plants are well protected (wrapped, light bulb against trunk for heat, etc.) every year. One variety, Raja Puri, has actually been reported as being grown as a deciduous perennial as far north as Ohio. Unfortunately it is notorious for choking even in warm climates. This is one of the pieces of evidence that suggests it is probably possible to create a "California List" of those varieties which are forgiving of cool winters and some frost.

Varieties on that list could be successfully overwintered away from structures and with no additional protection most years in zones 8-9 and 15-16. The plants would probably just act like giant deciduous perennials. Almost all the varieties we offer should be candidates for that list. Those that are known warm growers or question marks are noted. And remember that the list is still a work in progress, with continuous updates.

In many relatively frost-free areas bananas can be overwintered without any extra protection most years. Those areas are Coastal Northern and Central California (Sunset zone 17, perhaps 16) and Southern California (zones 12-13, 18-24). In other areas such as the Central Valley (Sunset zones 8-9) and Northern Inland Valleys (14-16) you will probably have to have some sort of minimal protection most years and may have to use good protection during the very coldest years. "Minimal protection" means a good overhang plus a warm wall, such protection as you might find if planted against a house. Some hobbyists build minimal cold frames to protect just the trunks over winter when planting away from structures. "Good" protection would mean wrapping in burlap and adding a light bulb for night warmth, perhaps loosely mounding straw from a bale of hay as far up the trunk as possible, etc. In general that is far more trouble than most people (including me) want to go through so they would just start over after the ten or twenty-five year freezes.

If bananas aren't sufficiently protected and they do lose the central meristem they probably survive but will fail to fruit the following year. Since the pups start from below the ground the plant should survive all but the very worst, longest, deepest freezes (1972, 1990, 1998), those where the ground starts to freeze solid. With even minimal help the mat would probably still live to see another day even in those snappiest of cold snaps.

The most likely scenario is that gardeners in California will just plant the things and hope the winter isn't too cold. Most years the plants will bear the following year. If they aren't getting fruit, and the growing season/site and cultural practices are adequate, especially controlling pups, it probably means the plants might need a little extra winter protection, might need to be resited, or might need to be replaced with a more cold tolerant or cool growing clone.

Culture typical untended (yet fruiting) mat at Lighthouse Point plant in full or almost full sun. Water and feed regularly during spring, summer and fall, and mulch the soil surface heavily with rich organic material except directly against the trunk. Bananas are notoriously heavy potassium feeders. Signs of potassium deficiency are a yellowish leaf margins. The best solution is to find a fertilizer high in nitrogen AND potassium but not too high in phosphate. Ask your local independent nursery professional for help here. They like manure, in moderation, but watch out for burning off roots by using too much or especially applying during or going into cold weather, when poisonous ammonia and nitrites can accumulate from partial nitrogen conversion. In all situations plant in coarse, well aerated, heavily amended (with organic material) soils and (very important!) where the sun will warm the root area somewhat, especially during winter. Withhold water as much as possible in winter unless you are south of the dividing ranges where dry Santa Ana winds can desiccate plants quickly. In extremely wet winter climates, protecting the root area from rain with tarps may be necessary if you have the motivation. In marginal areas, a simple PVC pipe or redwood stake and plastic cold frame will protect the plant from killing frost until the fruit is ripe enough to harvest. If you anticipate having to do this, look for the dwarf varieties, most of which will fruit at under 7-8'.

Most growth will occur when soil temperatures are no lower than 65-70�F. To help increase the number of days that occurs, keep weeds from around the base of the plant in summer in order to minimize cool, shaded roots. Clematis might enjoy that, bananas don't. In winter you can allow some vegatation to grow near the base somewhat to help pull moisture away and insulate soil temperatures.

Many of these varieties have been bred or selected for resistance to Panama Disease (Fusarium wilt), Yellow and Black Sigatoka leaf disorders (Mycosphaerelia fungus), and nematodes. Some of these problems may be found in California, or all could be absent. I can't find reliable information to indicate which is the case. Our plants are all from tissue culture and should be free from problems. Plants bought as divisions from out of state (especially Florida) or over the Internet from backyard growers should be held in deep suspicion. Only Black Sigatoka is unknown in Florida. Once you have these diseases you aren't going to get rid of them. Also, never cut bananas with any implements (shovels, shears) that haven't been scrubbed to mostly bright metal and disinfected (heat, Lysol spray) for monocot viruses, to which bananas are extremely susceptible. Trying to fruit virus-enfeebled bananas in marginal climates is almost certainly a lost cause. Any virused clumps should be immediately rogued out and disposed of.

Gophers LOVE bananas, they really do. And if you have rats they may crawl up into the canopy and devour the developing fruit unless it is protected with chicken wire.

Ripening and Harvesting flower bract and spike almost spent spike conventional wisdom says the plant will need four to six months to ripen the fruit, and that range should cover fast ripening varieties in hot areas and slower varieties in all but the coolest-summer areas. Ripening will take longer later in the year as total energy available per day starts to fall dramatically with the onset of shorter days, cooler temperatures, and cloudy weather beginning in fall. If your plant hasn't initiated its flower spike by June or July, you can either wait and see what happens and risk winter-ripening the fruit, or you can experiment and cut it back hard, though resetting bloom by cutting back hard seems to be so unreliable as to be not worth trying. You are probably better off observing whether your variety will fill when spring starts again, which some can, if they don't get burned off by a true hard freeze.

Many varieties will abort their fruit under winter temperatures, some will simply stop further development when night temperatures drop below 50F (or some lower point), some might pause development until night temperatures rise again in spring. It appears that Goldfinger and Dwarf Orinoco, and undoubtedly others, are perfectly capable of pausing fruit development under cool conditions and resuming in spring, based on my observations of plants in Santa Cruz and corroborating reports from various other local growers.

You want at least four leaves on the plant as it is ripening fruit if possible. However I am aware of at least one Goldfinger grown outdoors in the Petaluma area which produced good quality fruit from a stalk which initiated in fall, overwintered, and finished in late spring with no leaves at all to support the developing fruit. So all the development was supported by stored food reserves in the roots and stalk. This plant then produced three pups and formed a new canopy after spike was removed.

It is best to plant several varieites and experiment. Fruit will often be ripening August through December. If they get a direct hard freeze you can kiss all of them goodbye. So if a hard freeze is predicted and you can't offer supplemental protection, harvest anyway since there is nothing to lose. Once the fruits have finished filling you stand a good chance of ripening them. Reducing the amount of fruit to ripen by reducing the number of the hands (horizontal fruit clusters that the spike is composed of - the fruit themselves are called fingers), or perhaps choosing larger varieties over dwarf strains (and thereby gaining more leaf area) may be strategies to try. Commercial growers shorten stalks from the bottom (the end, remember it is arching over!) to size up fruit, and one grower in cool New Zealand reports it only took only one month to ripen a two-hand stalk. In frost free areas, most non-Cavendish varieties will continue to ripen over winter though Cigar End Rot (a fungus) can become a problem in cold, wet conditions. Protect by removing dead tissue from around fruits and even covering with a plastic bag.

It is not uncommon for a plant to miss its crop for the year due to one factor or another (planted late, early frost, cool year, Santa Ana winds, run-in with a gopher mob, etc.). Plant lots of varieties to spread out your chances, it helps ensure you at least get a little fruit every year. If only one variety comes through and has a good crop you may have well over a hundred pounds of bananas to dispose of anyway. The range of fruit cluster sizes quoted is what commercial growers in traditional banana growing areas report. Your results will vary.

Any fruit cluster over about 25 pounds should probably be propped. A favorite method is to use a piece of old hose looped several times around the stalk, with the hose then hung from a stout pole(s), for hanging support that distributes the bearing surface. My best information indicates that plants which bloom "on time," (May-July) will produce smaller stalks around 20 lbs, and those which bloom later will produce larger stalks that probably won't ripen before winter in California.

In commercial banana production the first crop from a new division is known as the "plant" crop (P). The fruit are smaller, the crop is smaller, and the quality is generally inferior to what you will get from your next crop off that mat. That next crop will come from a basal pup of the original plant after it flowers, bears and dies, and is called the "first ratoon" crop (R1). By the second ratoon crop (R2) you have the fruit at its best, whatever that is, and subject to varying growing conditions from year to year of course. Under good conditions once the mat is established you should get a crop every year.

Eating "dessert" refers to eating the fruit fresh out of hand, "cooking" means it will often have better flavor if cooked or roasted. Even heating briefly releases more flavor in the cooking types, though many are just fine fresh as long as they are fully ripe. My favorite way to cook bananas is just to saut� them briefly in a small amount of butter. I haven't tried roasting them, a common cooking treatment in developing countries or wherever cooking is done over a fire instead of in a stove, but from reports they are just thrown on coals in their skins for 15-20 minutes, turned when the skins blacken, until they are done all over, then they are retrieved, cooled, and eaten. This is the method I use camping, and it has always worked well for me, the kids and I have fun doing it, plus I appreciate the cultural significance of getting closer to my caveman roots by pitching food into a fire and fishing it out with a stick.

In many if not all varieties the flowers and bracts are themselves edible and can cut off as sure as no more female flowers are being produced, which will further help fill the fruit. In some high concentrations of oxalic acid may make tasting quite an experience of the memorable kind, though I have a feeling those may have come from episodes where the bud wasn't properly prepared. I have also seen a comment that only cooking bananas are used, not fresh eating types. If you start screaming and running down the street, stop, don't eat more, but do please drop us a line as to which variety that was. Pisang Awak, which is probably the same as �Namwah,� is eaten in Thailand. I have also seen reports that male flowers of Saba, Cardaba, and Brazilian/Dwarf Brazilian are edible, and I have myself prepared curry dishes from the flowers of 'Belle' and 'Mona Lisa.' The flavor is nice, mild, slightly banana-vegetable, and the texture relatively crisp.

The basic technique is to strip away any bracts or flowers themselves which are deeply colored, until you get down to the hear where the tissue is whitish and more tender. What you want Anything with any amount of color is going to be slightly astringent or bitter, which can be more interesting in very small doses. At this point you can test a little of the preparation and make sure it isn't "hot." Exactly how white your starting material is will depend on your personal preference. You can remove and save for use any flowers that are still light colored as you strip away the dark, older bracts surrounding them. Anything removed or cut goes into either water with lots of lemon juice or buttermilk, which will help leach away the sap (which stains black you and any clothing or absorbent material it comes in contact with) and keep the preparation from turning dark brown or black itself. Then you half or quarter the core lengthwise, then chop crosswise, add the unchopped (or halved) flowers, and add all that to the soaking liquid until ready to cook. Ready to chop It is best to pull the styles from the flowers before cooking, they tend to get woody.

Then you take some butter, or olive oil and butter, or peanut, sesame or other oil, and melt it into a large skillet, and don't be too stingy. Chop up 6-8 green onions and put them in and drain off the liquid from the banana flowers and add them. At this point recipes start to diverge more widely, depending on whether you are going to go Indian, Southeast Asian, or Southern Pacific, but my preparation would be to add a little dry mustard, some cumin, allspice, caraway seed, and enought turmeric that it turns as yellow as you can stand it, then cook for 10-20 minutes on low. Then add some unsweetened coconut (best fresh, grated, but who has that) and cook some more. You add a small of buttermilk or yoghurt at the end to sauce it up, with more on the side at the table, add some salt to taste. It can be served by itself as a side dish or over rice as a main dish. One flower bud will serve 4-6 , or it will serve you by yourself for four nights because no one else in your family will dare try it. But I know Joe Shultz (India Joze) would be proud of me!

You can add chilis, or gingers, or keep them out, there are endless variations. In the Filipino version you probably start with vinegar, in the Chinese version you probably start with peanut oil. In Bali they are fried with garlic and onion. In the end the basic method is the same. An Internet search will turn up some interesting recipes. all the above rev 8/2008

'Belle' flowering height female flowers ripening fruit - AAB. This is a first class variety. A sport of Pisang Raja, which itself is a vigorous grower (15-20') with a moderately heavy crop of very sweet, high quality fruit that are ivory white (to supposedly orange!) inside and of moderate to large size. My plant, the first banana variety I successfully fruited, flowered at 5' trunk height. The fruit formed were 4" long by 1 1/2" across, and had a wonderful, typical banana flavor with an elusive, perfumy, flowery undertone that was somewhat apple-like. The fruit also have a respectable and quite wonderful acidity which doesn't diminish, making them considerably zingier and more interesting than supermarket bananas. They hold very well after picking, to the point that they keep improving in flavor even past when the skins start to turn black and tough. This form has highly colored juvenile foliage with whitish undersides, an powdery white trunk, and is a vigorous, early season grower. Plants in this group are wind resistant and cool tolerant. Pisang (or "Pysang") types hail from Malaysia but aren't all related. Some Pisangs are AA while the Pisang Raja group itself is AAB. I have also eaten 'Belle' flowers as a cooked vegetable, as described above. rev 12/2006

'Bordelon' why you grow it foliage closeup translucent foliage found in Bordelonville, Louisiana. This variety is an ornamental of supposed edible banana parentage to some degree, but its origin is circumspect and it is assumed to be a hybrid. It may be a cross with the very red-striped variety known in the trade as Sumatran Banana, M. acuminata �Zebrina,� AKA M. sumatrana, AKA M. �Rojo,� a notoriously slow, difficult, frost tender and somewhat cold sensitive plant even for Southern California. �Bordelon� has green leaves striped with burgundy, and burgundy undersides. It is supposed to be a good cool grower and should be a great, more dependable substitute for Sumatran Banana. rev 9/2007

�Cardaba� wonderful white leaf undersides BBB or ABB, may be a sport of �Saba.� To 15', an easy and fast tall variety. It can be eaten fresh or cooked, and is excellent either way. This is one of the very best eating varieties. Fruit should be fully yellow before eating, but they don't hold long at that stage. They tend to get very soft and mushy near the skin at that stage but the flavor is incomparable when that ripe. Fast, wind tolerant, with a reputation for good cold tolerance and high resistance to choking. �Cardaba� has a nice blue green colored leaf with whitish undersides. The large, rather rotund fruit is very white inside and often unevenly shaped and sized. Good, consistent reports from growers in cooler areas, and one of my best and fastest growing varieties in Santa Cruz. Also the #1 favorite of David Johnson in the heart of the Central Valley, who reports stalks in the 18-25 lb. range and "lemony [fruit], with undertones of other flavors." In commercial areas the clusters range between twenty and sixty pounds. rev 12/2006

�Dwarf Brazilian� AAB. All the great attributes of �Brazilian� but instead of getting 15-25' high it fruits at around 7-10' in height. Slow. Very cool tolerant and frost resistant. AKA Santa Catarina Prata. rev 8/2007

�Dwarf Namwah� fruit at Quail BG, Encinitas ABB. Also known as �Dwarf Pisang Awak� and in Australia as �Ducasse.� This is a ladyfinger type that bears large clusters of very sweet fruit. It has done well for Central Valley and Southern California growers, growing quickly in spring even during cool periods, and appears to be a very good choice for cooler areas since one local grower reports it simply stops in its tracks during hot weather. It is known as a tough variety in Southeast Asia. It is very quick ripening and even late summer clusters can often be harvested before frost. Drought resistant and vigorous but to only 8-9' tall. rev 3/2004

�Dwarf Orinoco� young summer fruit, Santa Cruz overwintered fruit, February typical plant ABB. A sport of �Orinoco,� almost always fruiting by the time it is 6-7' tall. The fruit is the same as that of the original �Orinoco,� large, and heavily angled, usually with three edges. This is a great one for small places and arguably the best one to start with in a hot summer/cool winter climate since it is small enough to be easily protected in real severe conditions. I have seen it grow and fruit in Santa Cruz. Reported to be quite shade tolerant. Leaves are whitish underneath, trunks have a waxy white coating. See �Orinoco� for more growing and eating characteristics. Jeff Earl's #1 favorite! rev 12/2006

�Goldfinger (FHIA 1)� AAAB. The first product of a banana improvement research project of Fundaci�n Hondure�a de Investigacion Agr�cola, funded by the Honduran government. It has been replaced to some degree by later FHIA efforts. Overall this variety takes longer to mature than most others but also seems the most cold tolerant and has shown to be very resistant to choking in California. It is reported to be a very good cool-summer variety as well as the only variety cold hardy enough to produce commercial quality fruit (that means "good" this time) from the frosty regions of South Africa. Bred from Dwarf Brazilian, this variety is resistant to Black Sigatoka, three strains of Panama Disease, and crown rot. It produces good crops even in soils of marginal quality or areas of lower humidity. It is notably more resistant to rot in cold, wet winter soils but still needs rich, well drained soils in order to survive. It is relatively wind resistant. It is best ripened on the plant if possible (naturally, without extra ethylene), and has a slightly acid, faint apple-like flavor usually rated as extremely good. Fruit which ripens over winter is well-flavored also, if you can site it so it keeps some foliage to protect the fruit from direct light frosts. It can be cooked, ripe or green, like a plantain, or simply eaten fresh. Generally a failure in tropical climates where it reportedly has a mediocre flavor, it has "not bad" flavor in warm subtropical climates and simply excellent flavor in cooler subtropical and Mediterranean climates like California, according to those who have tasted it, even better than that of tropical-origin, Cavendish-type fruits. Some of this discrepancy of quality of flavor between climates might be ascribed to the unfamiliarity of tropical inhabitants to fruits with much acidity, but it also might be that under warmer conditions its flavor becomes less distinctive and the cooler conditions bring out the acidity and subtle background flavors. To about 7-10', of stout construction and with broad leaves, with fruit clusters in the 30-100 lb. range. A chunky compact grower with whitish undersides to the leaves, conspicuous red blotches on the upper surfaces, and a waxy/powdery white coating on the trunk. rev 8/2007
�Ice Cream� (�Blue Java�) ABB. Tastes like ice cream. They say you can even eat it with a spoon. May be a sport of Saba (I seriously doubt it) or Orinoco (more probably). Choke resistant, but reports are it is more sensitive to cold soil than �Goldfinger� or �Orinoco.� A larger grower to 14-18' with beautiful silvery leaves, a stout, glaucous trunk, robust root system, and relatively fast production cycle. Silvery blue green fruit have pure white interiors. Some say this one tastes the best, one source says it can sometimes get a spongy core. People who have tasted it personally tend to rave about it. It produces very heavily. Leaves are whitish below, trunks have a waxy/powdery white coating. A great grower for me in Santa Cruz. rev 8/2007

'Manzano' AAB. Spanish for "apple" and sometimes sold as that. A standard size grower, to 12-14', with good cold tolerance, this looks to be a good variety for Northern California. Reportedly wind tolerant and resistant to blow-down. Four inch long fruit has a slightly acidic flavor, somewhat reminiscent of apple. This is a very popular variety in Hawaii, and if you had a sprightly flavored banana when you were there this was probably it. This variety that should be allowed to fully ripen before eating. Leaves are splashed with red when young, have white undersides, and trunks are coated with a powdery white coating. rev 3/2006

�Misi Luki� short, rotund, 4" long lady finger-type bananas are very sweet and very white and very good. A large, skinny grower to 15-20', it is best in locations not exposed to hard winds. It was reportedly selected from a high elevation in Samoa, and it does seem to produce good quality fruit under cool conditions according to one commercial grower in New Zealand. Another Southern California grower in a warm location rates it among his best, as does David Johnson growing it near Modesto. For me in cool, wet Santa Cruz as well as in the more severe Central Valley it has consistently been one of the fastest, most vigorous growers. It is also a beautiful ornamental, with blue green leaves that are silvery underneath and with a nice whitish powdery bloom on the petioles and crown. This plant would be great if it never bore a fruit. Plus it has a nice, exotic name. rev 3/2006

�Mona Lisa� (FHIA 2) flowering height AAAA. Another variety that is very similar to �Goldfinger,� though with a heritage very similar to Cavendish, reaching 7-10'. I have fruited this variety in Santa Cruz, at 5', but in a cold, wet spring. Whereas my 'Belle' kept five leaves and filled its fruit under the same conditions, this variety only was able to put out half a leaf, five hands of fruit, and only filled its fruit to 2" long by 3/4" across. Thus it appears this variety is a little more sensitive to cool growing conditions. The fruit ripened well however, including one little nubbin whose insides were only the size of the last section of my little finger. The flavor is quite good, essentially the same as that of supermarket bananas (Cavendish family). While it takes a little longer to get going in the spring, winter survival seems okay at this point and it should be good in climates with warm springs and summers. Listed as a fresh eating type, but I have never met a banana that couldn't be cooked at some stage. Has arching, decumbent foliage and attractive smoky burgundy undersides to the leaves. It is a fast re-cropper. Whereas �Goldfinger� can take a full 18 months to bear after its first crop, this form can bear another crop the following year (under favorable conditions!). Resistant to disease, robust, drought resistant. This variety is highly colored and quite ornamental. Clusters range in the 30-80 lb. range in the tropics, figure 20 lbs. here max. I have eaten the flowers as a cooked vegetable. rev 12/2006

'Mysore' AAB also known as 'Poovan' or 'Champa.' A tall grower (16') that bears short, thin skinned lady finger type bananas with a slightly acid flavor. This is the most common variety in India. Moderately cold resistant, better in Southern California and probably not a good one for Central or Northern California except experimentally. Wind resistant but benefits from propping. Leaves are heavily blotched with maroon when young, trunks and leaf undersides have a smoky coral red color. rev 6/2005

�Orinoco� ABB. Also known as Burro or Bluggoe banana, also Macho in Mexican markets in the US. Probably the best cold-tolerant fruiting banana, along with its dwarf sport �Dwarf Orinoco,� this bullet-proof variety is THE one to try if you only have space for one plant AND you have summer heat. If you don't have summer, heat, stay tuned, it may not need it. I know one grower who suspects it is as winter cold tolerant as the famous M. basjoo. As a standard variety it only gets to about 10'. It has been successfully fruited in Phoenix, Arizona and darn near every year in Jeff Earl's garden in Modesto, California. Probably a plantain hybrid, it was found by its introducer growing along the Orinoco River in Venezuela but is originally from India. Fruits are short, thick, and easily recognized by their thick skin and three-angled fruits. Flavor is about like a Cavendish (store banana) when fully ripe, or they can be cooked, green or ripe, like plantains. The fruit should be turning slightly yellow before being removed from the stalk or they will be very starchy and not as sweet. The fruit should be completely yellow before eating fresh, with no green showing, not even on the stem. The skin can even turn black without harming the ripening fruit inside, though fruit quality declines quickly as fruit age past the yellow stage. For cooking the fruit can be less ripe. Flavor is typical but slightly starchier and with a distinct mild acidity. It tends to be rather hard (good for cooking) and can sometimes have a pithy core. Clusters can be up to 50 pounds. This one, like most ABB types, probably needs a good, hot summer for decent fruit production, though it is known to produce along the coast - eventually. This is probably the variety that one Santa Cruz CRFG member grew that simply stopped filling in early winter when it got cold, then resumed sizing and ripening the following spring, something its dwarf variant has also proven capable of. It has been grown in California for over a hundred years and is known for drought tolerance. rev 8/2007

�Raja Puri� at Quail BG AAB. Of Indian origin, it can be used fresh or green. Very heat tolerant, and reportedly one of the most cold tolerant as well, which makes it a prime candidate for trial growing. A Central Valley grower I know reported it essentially stopped growing below 80�F and retained its leaves along with �Orinoco� and �Dwarf Namwah� when all others had defoliated from cold. A small grower, it should flower around 6-7' tall. It has been grown as an ornamental almost as far north as M. basjoo, though it never fruits there due to death of the flower spike, and other fruiting varieties may be similarly vegetatively hardy. However, there are reports of choking under conditions where Orinoco finished its fruiting cycle, and even reports of it choking under warm Florida conditions. It may not like temperature fluctuation. There is too little experience with cold winter climate growing to definitively answer this, only time and experimentation will tell. There are certainly plenty who consider it cold hardy. If nothing else it will make a great hardy ornamental foliage plant. Fruit tend to be short and very sweet. It seems to have a very long production cycle. rev 12/2002
�Sweetheart (FHIA 3)� second year old plant, Santa Cruz AABB. A very new, improved fresh or cooking type, capable of being grown under cooler conditions, winter cold tolerant, disease resistant, semi dwarf (10-12'), and stocky. It has been described as similar to �Goldfinger� or �Orinoco.� It is very tolerant of sub-standard growing conditions, especially poor quality soils. The fruit ripen very quickly after picking so they should be left on the stalk until almost needed. Just harvest one hand at a time. It has great flavor, with a good sweet/acid ratio, very smooth texture, and resistance to browning after peeling. Overall it is similar to supermarket bananas but without the cloyingly sweet and sometimes bitter aftertaste, and flavor should be better in cool summer areas. It has a relatively fast production cycle, is a heavy producer, and a fast ripener. This variety seems to be a classic "home" variety: a poor commercial shipper of wide climactic adaptability and great fresh quality. It has a reputation for drought and wind resistance. Latest reports from growers in New Zealand (Ben McNeil) and California (David Johnson) indicate this to be a very good tasting and cold hardy variety. Places first on Ben's list! Clusters are usually 15-20 lbs. This has been a good, fast, reliable grower for me in Santa Cruz. rev 12/2006

    Bookmark   September 28, 2010 at 12:16PM
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trillianh(GW 9 /Sunset 15 /Nor CA)

Wow, wow, wow. I finally got time to read all your info Wanda, incredible. Choices, choices, I guess it really depends on what people have to offer.

Wanda, any chance you sell any of your varieties you have in Santa Cruz. I am right over the hill in the Gilroy/Morgan Hill area!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 6:50PM
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Well, rats. We have the Blue Java or "ice cream" variety growing in our Central Valley yard and I wish I had read this earlier! Ours are in their second year and are about 16-18 feet but no sign of a bloom yet. The bases are about a foot across. Of course, we didn't know to remove the pups some of which are now about 10 feet tall. We had them in large pots last winter and kept them in a sunny garage. Now they are planted out and we plan to spray down with cloud cover and possibly throw a plastic tarp over them for frost protection. The wind does tatter the leaves but it doesn't seem to slow them down.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 7:34PM
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hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

I really need to get a picture of a house down the road. They've been growing bananas for years. They get huge bunches--they even have these wooden contraptions they built to support the weight of the huge bunches of bananas. It's the coolest thing. They must eat several bananas apiece almost every day year round. They even have bunches in December. This is in zone 23, warmer winters than 15.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 3:36AM
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norcal916(USDA 9 / Sunset 14)

I am in the Sacramento area and have a banana tree ('Musa Basjoo') however it is an ornamental. The leaves start to die off with our first frosts in mid to late November. The trunk remains dormant all winter and then new leaves gradually start to sprout up in late Feb and March. It would be nice to have fruit , but I love how it looks as a seasonal ornamental with those huge green leaves. Very exotic and tropical looking.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 2:32AM
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Anyone have pups right now to do a trade for...?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2015 at 7:04AM
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