MOUNT DESERT—Bananas growing on tropical islands is not unusual, but growing them on Mount Desert Island seems like a stretch, unless you have a greenhouse with tropical temperatures like Pepper Cwik.
For the last two years, Cwik has fostered a Cavendish variety banana tree she bought at a farmers market in Florida. It needed to be small enough to carry on an airplane, she explained, so the ‘pup’ was a mere six inches tall to start.
When it arrived in Maine, its greenhouse on Echo Wood Road was not yet finished. Now, in addition to the banana plant, there is a Greek olive tree, a Meyer lemon bush and a coffee plant growing alongside lettuce, flowers and herbs.
“It’s a big experiment,” said Cwik who is now dwarfed under the huge leaves that cascade from the plant. “I was just hoping to get bananas as a bonus.”
And, bananas she will have, very soon. One flower bloomed on the single stalk in mid-April, and a month later there are already about 100 small green bananas. As each petal of the flower unfolds, more appear. Cwik anticipates the tree could produce about 200 bananas before it’s done.
Banana trees are martyrs when it comes to their purpose in life. Once they produce fruit, they die. But, as they grow, more shoots come from the base of the plant and can be either transplanted or grown in place to produce more fruit-bearing trees.
“I cut a bunch already,” said Cwik about the off-shoots, of which there are still approximately 10 remaining. “They just keep popping up. When you cut a stalk, you would not believe how much water is inside.”
Each stalk is very hearty and requires a sharp instrument to cut through, according to Cwik. She said it is understandable why machetes are commonly used on banana plantations.
There are about 1,000 different varieties of bananas that grow throughout the world. Rich in potassium, bananas are also high in antioxidants and contain other vitamins that make them a healthy snack or breakfast food.
According to The Banana Police website, more than 100 billion bananas are eaten every year in the world. The average American consumes 27 pounds each year, which is only a fraction of the 218 pounds eaten each year by the average person in Ecuador.
Most of the bananas eaten in the United States come from countries in Central and South America. A cluster of bananas is called a hand, and a single banana is called a finger; each hand has about 10-20 fingers.
Apparently, the plant bananas grow on is not called a tree, but is classified as an herb – the world’s largest. Banana peels, specifically the inside, have many beneficial properties that can be useful for easing the pain of mosquito bites, poison ivy, scrapes or burns.
Cwik doesn’t have any set plans for the bunches she’ll soon harvest. She has done some research about bananas while cultivating the plant and learned that they are best harvested when green. There is a sap that runs down the leaves of the plants that stains clothes, which makes working with them a bit tricky.
“I have not really given that much thought into what I’m going to do with the bounty,” said Cwik who is retired and spends much of her time gardening. “I will dehydrate quite a few to make my own banana chips. They are nice and flexible and so much better than what you can buy. That said, I hope they don’t all ripen at once, but what a problem to have!”