Saturday, 28 February 2009

going bananas!

Before my foray into gardening and plants, the only bananas I knew of were those you would commonly find hanging at fruit stalls and supermarkets or those which were sold as goreng pisang (deep fried banana fritters). Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised and amazed when I found out that there are in fact more than 50 species of bananas (scientifically known by the genus "Musa") all over the world, and not all of them are fruiting / edible bananas.

Apart from being just a regular food source, some bananas are often grown for their ornamental value, either for their large showy inflorescences or their striking foliage. No tropical garden is complete without at least a banana plant in sight. This probably explains ornamental bananas are now getting more attention and increasingly being incorporated into our public spaces, condominium landscape and private gardens. There has also been a recent surge in interest amongst collectors for these plants, with serious and amateur collectors (like myself)  alike going about their rounds in just about every nursery in Singapore, searching for the more elusive and exotic banana species.

The most commonly grown ornamental banana species include the Blood Banana (Musa zebrina / sumatrana / acuminata), Musa ornata, Musa laterita, Musa uranoscopus (formerly M. coccinea) and Musa velutina (pink or self-peeling banana). The rarer ones would include the Musa siamensis and in particular, the Musa becarrii (pictured here as the white and purple inflo.) which I have yet to find anywhere.  There are two others which used to be fairly rare but which have now lost its demi-God status due to readier availability are the Thai Red and the variegated Musa. For some reason or other, they did not do too well under my care and sadly, both did not manage to survive. A fellow collector gave me a Hawaiian black musa which sadly, also did not  survive. Hence, contrary to popular belief, not all bananas are easy to grow. 

If you are thinking of growing ornamental banana, be sure to pick one which is relative to the size of your garden. These plants are invasive (esp. M. laterita which has runners) and if well established, can multiply fairly quickly into large clumps, to the point of becoming a nuisance. Also, I would recommend that bananas which are grown primarily for their foliage are grown in an area which is sheltered from the wind as the leaves are vulnerable to being torn. Finally, I find that ornamental bananas do best in bright light but not necessarily under direct afternoon sun as the colour of the leaves tend to get washed out or are prone to getting scorched. Apart from that, have fun going bananas!  

Sunday, 22 February 2009

the Heliconia

Pop by any florist around the world and you are likely to see at least one species of heliconia displayed on sale. This is hardly surprising given the fact the heliconia is indeed one of the most stunning flowers to have emerged in the florist trade. It's striking hues and exotic form explains why it often ends up taking centrestage in any tropical floral arrangement. In fact, the heliconia is probably the most celebrated icon of all tropical plants. (the others being the ginger and the banana)

I have a couple of heliconias in my collection but not all of them seem to be doing well. Like the bananas, they grow well after it has been established and when this happens, they can get rather aggressive, especially those which have runners. This explains why I tend to prefer those that clump. Large heliconias tend to require more space and are fairly tolerant where light is concerned. However, they are fairly heavy feeders and will require moist soil with a high clay content to do well. 

The ones which give me constant blooms are the H. Sexy Pink, the H. bihai 'Lobster Claw 1' and the H. guadaloupe. The others which are surviving but don't appear to be blooming anytime soon are the H. Sexy Orange, H. Caribaea purpurea, H. angusta 'Holiday' , H. indica 'Striata' and H. bihai 'Yellow Dancer'. 

The one pictured here was taken from a friend's garden and it is the extremely rare H. solomonensis.  


The passiflora or passionfruit vine is one of my favourite creepers, not just because it is relatively easy to grow and cultivate, but because of its very striking and sweet scented blooms. There are hundreds of species of passiflora worldwide and even more hybrids. 

They grow best in bright sunlight and flower very readily even in pots. However, like all other creepers, this has aggressive growing habits and will quickly find its way up any trees, trellises or other tall plants. I had quite a bit of problem with mine, having grown it next to the Etlingera elatoir.  So far, I have managed to collect 4 species of passiflora; the Lady Margaret, P. 'Amethyst', the fruiting P. edulis and an unknown. They are relatively easy to cultivate and do grow readily from stem cuttings, although maybe not for all species. I have tried twice to grow the P. coccinea from stem cuttings but they dried up on me, even after I confined it in a humid environment. Perhaps I just need a more mature cutting. 

Saturday, 21 February 2009

the costus dilemma

Today whilst taking my dogs out for their usual Sunday morning walk at the Ginger Gardens, I chanced upon yet another unusual costus discovery. The thing about costus is, until they bloom, some of them can look virtually alike, save for certain characteristics.

Also, because costus is not widely cultivated in Singapore, you rarely know what or how the inflorescence would look until it actually blooms.
This particular specimen looked every bit like the Costus lucanusianus. The only distinguishing characteristic is the colour of the flowers. So far, there are also two recognised varieties, the white and red/pink or pure canary yellow. This on the other hand, had orangey hues.

I took some photos and showed them to resident expert, Dave of Gingerus who confirmed that this is definitely an African species. However, he also thinks that this could also possibly be the Costus afer, Costus maculatus-albus or even a form of Costus dubius.

As much as I would like to believe him, something inside tells me that this is probably another form of the lucanusianus. Incidentally, the lucanusianus at home has finally bloomed and the flowers are of the exact same colour as the one pictured here.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

basal flowering tappenbeckianus

Whilst potting around in the garden this morning, I noticed that my Costus tappenbeckianus had produced basal flowers. Although I read about this before, I have never seen it, so naturally I was rather thrilled.  

The Costus tappenbeckianus is highly attractive because it produces lilac \ pink flowers and has lush double-toned foliage which spirals gracefully upwards. It is also one of the very few costuses which produces flowers both at the base of the plant and on the terminal ends of the stems. The photos above depict how the flowers would look in either case.

Costus tappenbeckianus is one of the easiest costus to grow and cultivate. They root readily from stem cuttings and do especially well in a compost / volcanic soil mix. They can also be grown from offshoots which emerge from the stems and these can be removed when roots start to appear. As it only started flowering after I transplanted it into the ground, I gather it probably does do as well in pots. 

another costus surprise

The ginger gardens at SBG never fail to surprise me each time I visit. Today, I was greeted by a pleasant surprise, the flowering of another unidentified costus. I tried researching it on Dave Skinner's website and the closest thing I could find is the Costus guanaiensis. However, I do have my doubts as the colouration is somewhat different from that of the guanaiensis. It may be the Costus Peruvian Pink. 

Anyway, judging from the size of the flowers and the bract (as compared to my hand), this is one of the larger costuses. The stems are also thicker than most. It's a shame that SBG is unable to fully identify all of its species in the park for it would have added great value and benefit to visitors like myself.

Monday, 9 February 2009

good luck pineapple

With any luck, I ought to strike it big this year, be it at work, financially or perhaps, acquiring that dream home. The reason I say this is because two of my pineapple plants have bloomed for the very first time. According to Chinese custom, the pineapple symbolises the coming of wealth. For this reason, the pineapple is considered auspicious for the Chinese New Year. Well, hopefully this will hold true for me this year!

The pineapple or Ananas cosmosus belongs to the Bromeliaceae family. And because it is edible, it is the most widely cultivated bromeliad in the world. Cultivation is also relatively easy for the top / crown of the fruit can be planted in soil and a new fruit-bearing plant will emerge after a few weeks. In that respect, the entire plant can be used, save for its skin (that said, i'm sure it can go into the compost bin). A word of caution though. As the leaves are sharp and serrated, I would advise handling them with care such as wearing gloves. I wouldn't put my face too close to the plant either for fear of losing an eye or scarring of the face.

Sunday, 8 February 2009