banana queen has bloomed again


From our balcony the other day I noticed that our banana has flowered. This doesn’t happen every year – in fact I can’t remember the last time the bright yellow Little Shop Of Horrors waxen monster opened up like this (can any of the horticulturalists among you give me any hints of what species of banana tree this actually is?)

I don’t even remember how it got there. I know we have some small banana trees upstairs; and this might have just been one of those from before, one that was ailing a little, that we just planted in the soil on the offchance that it might thrive. It did : and then some ; big, unfurling plantain leaves that strive up and flop over the next door neighbour’s fence (a courteous and energetic widow, whose late husband, it has only just occurred to me while writing this, actually worked for a banana trading company back in the day – Chiquita, I think, making frequent flights to Ecuador). I was about to write that she might object to the bright out-of-place-ness and hugeness of this non-indigenous and tropical plant, not quite matching her carefully tended begonias and dahlias, her delicate orchids suspended in hanging baskets, but now I realize she might come out of her back door, see the banana plant there each day smiling at her, and just find the whole thing quite ironic.

I find this flower majestic. Startling. It doesn’t have a particular smell, just slightly sugary , like sap – though its leaves have the bananier note found in Patou’s Sira Des Indes, one of the most indolent and nonchalant perfumes ever made. Bananas themselves we seem to have gone off slightly in recent times. Here they often come riduculously wrapped, individually, in cellophane, and sometimes one of us will buy one, or a bunch, but they go untouched. Sometimes the texture is all wrong, others I am just not in the mood – right now I prefer persimmons and mikan satsuma oranges.

Banana trees in Japan also strike me as somewhat sad. Deracinated. Not quite there. In August you feel as though you could be in the Philippines, with palm trees and the baby green bananas forming hurriedly on the branches. They never make it to full growth, though, because it starts to get colder by October, and by winter they get killed off by the frost.

Our banana queen, though, a different, non-fruit forming variety, while dormant for years at a time, is almost lividly alive, resplendent. There is a luxuriant, sheen of sap and nourishment for all the creatures that live inside her : satellites pulled back into the heaving mothership. Sturdy; of rubbered heft. She may be biding her time – for several years in a row, sometimes – just waiting, and drawing strength, but when she flowers …………………she really FLOWERS.

8 Comments

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8 responses to “banana queen has bloomed again

  1. Robin

    This is as good as your descriptions of complex and challenging fragrances. Splendid writing.

    It’s hard to get a handle on Japan’s climate. It’s such a contrast with ours, which I think must be quite like the southwest of England on the coast: mild, each season comparatively un-extreme. Where you have rain with heat, we are arid in the warm months. We slide gradually in and out of seasons and it seems your changes might be more abrupt and intense. I would love to live a full year there and see and feel what it’s like. It seems so damn exotic.

    We have banana trees here that should be put out of their misery every winter. It’s cruel to tease them, to give them a hint of warmth in July and August and then brutalize them with cold rain December through March when they turn brown, stooped and tortured. And still they come back when they’re hacked to the ground after years of slow death, bursting with hopeful shoots and fresh innocence. Ack! Our region’s true companions are the sword fern and the rhododendron. They get exactly what they need when they need it.

    • I adore the feelings I get from imagining ferns and rhododendrons there: it must be so beautiful.

      Interesting that you have banana trees too ; they definitely must be quite resilient just not to die off completely.

      Japan isn’t as hardcore as China : roiling summers and utterly freezing winters, and summer IS gradually ceding to Autumn, up and down ( today it is about 18 degrees, some in T shirts, some in coats), but the height of the summer is unbelievably humid and hot, like a jungle in Southeast Asia. February is relatively Arctic in comparison, so you see snow on the banana and palm trees.

      I like the weather here on the whole ; the drama of typhoons, and the fact that there is so much more sunshine than there is in the UK. As you know, I absolutely need sun.

      The only annoying thing is that many people here erroneously believe that Japan is the only country with four seasons….

      ( as I have written on here before, in this situation I usually bring up Vivaldi)

  2. Banana blooms look like they are from another planet. They really don’t have much fragrance do they? The huge blooms are a mess attracting bees & ants galore and dropping petals and sticky nectar everywhere. There are no standard varieties of bananas here in Nepal as most grow wild. Most wild bananas are rather disappointing flavor-wise but some are shockingly sour like green apples or custardy sweet with hints of strawberry and cinnamon.
    Most people think Nepal is all glaciers, yaks, and rocky mountain passes. In reality, Nepal is really a constellation of warm, sheltered, temperate, HUMID, sub-tropical valleys tucked away in the Himalayas. (Truly the basis of Hilton’s Shangri-La.) Even the Sherpa tribes of the Everest region only live at the high altitude villages seasonally. Snow covered mountains encircle my little tropical Himalayan valley. I have bananas, papayas, guavas, okra, hibiscus, bougainvillea, orchids, taro, pineapples, bromeliads, tree ferns, lemongrass, purple yams, bird of paradise, night blooming jasmine, and numerous other exotica in my small yard. There might be one or 2 nights of light frost in January or early February.

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