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Bananas Thrive in City Greenhouse

Rob Kundert

Dubuque Telegraph Herald

May 31, 2006

[Note: This material is copyright by the Dubuque Telegraph Herald, and is reproduced here as a matter of "fair use" for non-commercial, educational purposes only. Any other use may require the prior approval of the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.]

About 65,000 plants are grown in the city's greenhouse off Lincoln Avenue. All but one eventually find their way to a boulevard, fire house, park or office landscape.

But past the flats of geraniums, begonias, marigolds and petunias is a 9-foot banana tree.

"We've had the tree for about 15 years," said Mike Horsfall, city gardener.

Volunteers at the Dubuque Arboretum and Botanical Gardens dropped it off one fall to overwinter.

"It was hit by frost and was all but dead," he said. "I nursed it back to health. We stuck it in the ground and it's been there ever since."

The banana tree, actually a giant herb, is treated like one of the family.

"It gets watered when we water other things," Horsfall said. "Except for fertilizer that happens to run in from fertilizing other plants, we never do anything to it."

It takes about two years to produce a bunch of bananas about the size of a basketball, each piece about 5 inches long.

"They grow in a clump," he said. "There is always another one or two that are coming up from the base, from the root system. It never stops."

After a bunch is taken, the shoot is cut down to the mother stalk to make room for the next shoots to grow.

"Anybody who wants to can just pick one and eat it," Horsfall said of the small, sweeter-than-usual variety. "One guy took them home. His wife was going to make them into banana bread."