This monocarpic, herbaceous banana is a wonderful specimen in any garden. Monocarpic describes plants that flower, set seed, and then die. Ensete superbum, or cliff banana, is native to India and has a conical pseudo-stem made up of overlapping leaf sheaths. Its bright green leaves, reaching six feet in length, drop during winter. The plant may reach ten to twelve feet while blooming. The inflorescence (or flower head) is a curved terminal spike with triangular oblong fruits and reddish brown bracts that persist for some time to add ornamental value. This banana, unlike many others, does not produce suckers and only reproduces by seed. In some extraordinary cases, plants in the wild can go into a three to four year dormancy period.
This rare plant in now on display in the Enid A. Haupt Garden. You can see it for a limited time just inside the west entrance to the garden, close to the entrance to the S. Dillon Ripley Center.
-Matt Fleming, Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist