This month we introduce you to Ensete Ventricosum (Abyssinian Banana) a showy plant found in the warmest places in Mediterranean gardens.

Plant of the Month

Ensete Ventricosum – Abyssinian Banana

This month we introduce you to Ensete Ventricosum a showy plant found in the warmest places in Mediterranean gardens.  It is also known as the Abyssinian Banana and belongs to a genus of six species all native to tropical regions of the Old World.

It is related to the edible bananas.  It cannot stand even the slightest frost so cannot survive in a winter garden.  If you get frost in your garden you have to grow it in a pot and bring it indoors in the winter.  It is widely used in landscaping schemes for the ‘tropical note’ it brings to the garden with its wide leaves featuring red stems and veins.

Ensete ventricosum is found in the wild all over Africa and can grow to 8-10m.  It does not have a trunk, but grows from a ‘false trunk’ formed by the stems of dead leaves from which no branches grow.  This false trunk is at its widest at the point where it meets the soil and the plant is named for this as ‘ventricosum’ means ‘swollen’ in Latin.  The plant usually has only one ‘false trunk’ but occasionally a ‘twin-trunked’ specimen is found.  The plant is wide and grows to several metres in height with long green leaves of which the thick stems and central veins are rosy pink.  Thinner veining in the leaves will also be a lighter pink.

It is a monocarpic plant which means it dies after flowering.  It produces large flowers which, with their stem, can reach 2-3m in length.  The male flowers are produced at the top of the stem, the females lower down.  Flowers are cream in colour and are only produced when a plant is over eight years of age.  Flowering occurs at the beginning of summer.  After flowering a banana-like fruit is produced with yellow skin covered in black spots.  In the fruit will be found rows of hard black seeds the size of chick peas.

As well as being grown for ornamental purposes, in countries where the plant is native the fruit is eaten.  The large flowers are also cooked and eaten.  Also the inner segments of leaves from the trunk are cooked and eaten.  In Ethiopa where famine is often an issue, people even eat the large seeds.  The leaves are used as roofing material.

Entese ventricosum is grown from seed.  When a ‘twin-trunked’ specimen occurs it can be split to give two separate plants.  It likes full sun or dappled shade, humus-rich soil and lots of water.  The slightest touch of frost will damage the plant.  In areas where frost is likely it should either be planted under other trees for protection or brought indoors in the winter.

Entese ventricosum maurelli – Red Abyssinian Banana this is a variety rarely produced from normal ensete ventricosum seed which grows with red leaves and is known as entese ventricosum maurelli.  Apart from the difference in leaf colour it is identical in terms of care and behaviour to the parent plant.  Indeed seed from this when planted will revert to the usual green-leafed ensete ventricosum.

All our plants featured in our Plant of the Month articles are available from The Palm Centre which  is open 1st June – 31st October but you can visit at any other time by appointment. 

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