I showed a photo of this plant when the leaves are fully emerged in the post about Erika’s unusual house plants.
This is what it looks like when the tuber is just beginning to come out of dormancy. At this stage the plant brings to mind a flattened potato crossed with an African violet that has exceptionally soft and velvety leaves.
Here’s a photo of a flower that had just fallen from the larger plant:
If you’d like to learn more, I’ve found this page to be very helpful. It includes photos of other Sinningias in their native habitat in Brazil, which goes a long way to explaining the kind of growing conditions it prefers.
I’ve seen torch ginger (Etlingera elatior) flowers in floral shops and thought they were interesting, but it’s quite another thing to see the waxy flowers in amongst the massive leaves and stalks of a 20 foot plant. As our friend David pointed out, It’s amazing how much plant it takes to support the flowers.
At one time just about everyone in Dominica grew bananas. Stabilized market prices made it possible for farmers to etch out a humble prosperity growing and selling bananas for export to the UK. But Dominica’s small-scale banana farmers can no longer compete with the massive plantation output of Latin America’s big banana business. Between that and a destabilized market, growing bananas does not provide a living wage.
Still, wherever you go in Dominica, you’re bound to run into a banana tree or two. Or several. Possibly a hillside covered in them. And now that I’ve had so much exposure to this primitive plant, I think I have a pretty good idea of how it grows and an even larger sense of awe about just how weird it is.
The big purple dangling thing in the photo is the flower heart. The flowers develop underneath the bracts, which peel back as the flowers form fruit.
In truth, I believe the plant in the photo is actually a type of plantain, not a banana. We made this mistake at the market a few times, as I have never seen such small plantains for sale in Canada. I thought I knew about the breadth and scope of banana types, but being in Dominica showed me just how wide the variety really is.
If you’d like to learn more about the banana industry in the Caribbean, I’d also recommend the documentary, Life and Debt, which has a small but eye-opening segment on what has happened with the EU and how impossible it is for small-scale, fair wage farmers to compete with big agro-business.
In August 1979 a massive hurricane hit the small island of Dominica, devastating just about everything in its path including homes, roads, crops, trees, and even leaving mountaintops bare.
Amazingly, in the wake of all of that destruction, the hurricane left behind a new plant, Spathoglottis plicata, an Asian ground orchid that can now be seen all over the island. It was named David’s orchid to remember the hurricane that brought it.
I have seen these both cultivated and growing wild here in Dominica.