There’s something exotic and deeply southern about a banana tree in a Texas yard. Its fan-shaped leaves dress up old-fashioned porches, casting authentic shade over wrought-iron railings. They’re almost impossibly ornamental, but that doesn’t particularly impress nurseryman James Visco.
“My wife Carol and I love banana plants because they grow fast,” he says. That’s one reason he sells them at Plantucopia, his Creedmoor nursery, and at the Sunset Valley Farmers’ Market. Even more compelling is the fact that Visco’s plants actually produce fruit, a prospect that’s long been seen as dicey here.
James acquired a thousand banana seedlings he thought might prove tougher than the competition. The varieties—among them Orinoco, 1000 Fingers, Red Iholene and Dwarf Puerto Rican—came from Hawaii, the Caribbean, Africa and South America, and were bred to produce miniature and plantain-type fruit as well as basic fruit-stand-style bananas. They’re more likely, he says, to withstand Austin’s occasional near-freezes, and possibly with “coddling and babying,” to make it below 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
As a rule, James doesn’t cotton to coddling. A plantsman since 1984, he has grown “cactus, orchids and a lot of edibles” using a tough-love approach. Never quite accepting that orchids require a nearly germ-free environment to thrive, James “roughed them up a little,” subjecting them to variable temperatures and the company of other plants. They turned out just fine. He’s a great believer in letting plants experience whatever nature throws at them, and his greenhouse is alive with plants that last summer’s record heat couldn’t kill, as well as beneficial bugs, lizards and even the occasional tree frog.
One way to grow plants is to let things happen, he says. Another is to challenge the rules. Bananas, for example, are said to require full sun. “But they don’t say whose full sun, or where,” James says. Instead, the banana tree he planted in dappled shade next to his house is taller, greener and lusher than the ones in his sunny greenhouse. Even better, it’s loaded with still-green bananas.
“And they say bananas flower in September and ripen in April,” he says with a shrug. “Who can say?”
And who can argue with homegrown bananas at any time of year?
Find James Visco’s fruiting banana plants at the Sunset Valley Farmers’ Market or contact Plantucopia at 830-214-4157.