The University of Minnesota Crookston campus offers many beautiful things for students and staff to admire. Did you know one of those things is a banana tree? The root stock of the campus tree is around 116 years old; that’s older than sliced bread! Inside the campus greenhouse is where the banana tree lives, a place where students can watch it grow and learn about its habits. The first UMN Crookston class to ever get to eat bananas from the tree was in 1929.
Bananas that come from the tree are not the same type of banana we get in a bundle at the local grocery store; these bananas are smaller, and former students have said that the campus tree’s bananas taste better.
“Bananas are referred to as monocarpic, meaning they continue to grow in the vegetative stage year after year,” explained Theresa Helgeson, greenhouse and lab services coordinator. “Once conditions are met, the vegative shoot (plant) will flower, thus resulting in fruit. Monocarps only flower once in their life.”
“This same shoot will start to die back after the flower or fruiting stage,” Helgeson added. “While this is happening, from the root stock will emerge a new shoot and begin the life cycle again.” The campus banana tree’s immediate past bloom produced the most bananas Helgeson has ever seen.
As you walk into the greenhouse, it’s hard not to notice the banana tree as it towers over all the other plant species. The height and the size of the leaves remind its viewers of its non-native status. With some red and green hues, the shoots resemble bulky rhubarb—a plant most midwesterners have encountered.
In an interview with sophomore Samantha Morris, who is majoring in environmental science and minoring in horticulture, Morris shared a plethora of great information about the tree. She says the banana tree can go dormant for certain periods of time and this past time it went dormant for two years before they got the most recent bundle of bananas. The longest the tree has ever been dormant was 25 years, she added.
Morris mentioned the tree will have to be repotted sometime this year, because it has outgrown its pot. The shoots have literally caused the current pot to burst at its seams. Repotting the tree could be a very complicated and tricky process because some of the tree’s leaves are very fragile. Because of its importance to the campus, students and staff are hoping for the least amount of damage possible during this process.
University of Minnesota Crookston’s banana tree is a unique treasure for the campus to have, since its location is in northern Minnesota. The tree is as old as the institution, and, while many still don’t know it exists, the hope is it will continue to marvel audiences for years to come.