An ancient Burmese legend tells of how people first realized that bananas could be safely eaten. They observed the birds eagerly consuming the fruit. To this very day, the generic name for banana in Burma is hnget pyaw meaning "the birds told."

Definitely our feathered friends were on to something! Bananas are wonderful plants for creating a tropical atmosphere in bird rooms or aviaries. They are relatively fast growing and require light, heat, and humidity in amounts similar to those of many exotic avians.

Bananas have been in cultivation since before recorded history. Currently, there are about 500 known edible species of banana. They have evolved from the primitive seeded varieties to the seedless edible bananas known today.

The banana is often incorrectly thought of as a tree, when it is actually a monocot (relative of the grass family). They will usually produce their fruit in nine to fourteen months depending on genetics, nutrition, moisture, temperature and light. As is typical with monocots, once the banana plant has produced its fruit, it has served its purpose and that particular plant will slowly die. However; this doesn't mean that you have to start all over again to continue growing bananas. 

It is important to view the banana as a "mat" or group of plants. Bananas can reproduce either by seed (if a seeded variety) or by the production of suckers that grow from the underground pseudo-bulb or corm. A properly maintained mat will have one plant in fruit, one plant half-grown and one plant just emerging from the soil. If you keep your banana mat happy, it will reward you with an on-going supply of plants.

BANANA HOW-TO

So can someone living in the North hope to produce bananas? Yes, it has been accomplished as far north as Chicago and under some really heroic conditions in Iceland (with the help of greenhouses). The banana is a tropical plant that loves temperatures in excess of 90 F degrees and high humidity. However; there are varieties which are cool tolerant and will work well as container plants. Again, the same conditions that you maintain for your birds should work for these container varieties.

Keep in mind lower temperatures mean slower growth and longer time to produce fruit. Growth generally ceases at 55 F degrees but the plant can actually survive to 32 F degrees. In cooler climates, bananas can be kept outside during the warmer months and then relocated indoors near a sunny window to make it through the winter.

Humidity is usually more of a factor during time spent indoors. A trick that works for me during those dry  winter months is to move my banana plants into the bathroom every two weeks or so and run the shower for five minutes. They really benefit from the added humidity and moist heat. In between times, I mist them on the same schedule that I have for my birds.

Organic fertilizer (10-10-10) is recommended on a monthly basis. When the banana is two to three feet in height with six leaves, approximately one third to one half pound of fertilizer should be used. A rule of thumb that I use for the amount of fertilization is temperature. During cooler temperatures, I will use less because the banana plants are already growing slower. As the temperature increases, so does the amount of fertilizer.

Reference:

Lessard, W.O., The Complete Book of Bananas, 1992.