Banana bonanza as part of the breadfruit festival


Cooking demonstrations were an outstanding feature of this year’s Breadfruit Goes Bananas Festival. Some excellent chefs produced delectable dishes, with delightful odors wafting from the preparation area.

Some audience favorites were created in the afternoon sessions. Many of these recipes were from Angela Keplers’s “The World of Bananas in Hawaii: Then and Now,” and were prepared by the author. The pungent aromas of garlic and curry spices pervaded the immediate area and the heavily scented breezes drew folks from surrounding exhibits.

Kepler’s 600-page “banana bible” was offered at a reduced festival price. The book is designed to be very user friendly. Its table of contents includes and categorizes each of the 100 banana varieties known to grow in the Hawaiian Islands. Many Polynesian introductions are included, as well as some commercially grown varieties and others that are rare. More than 1,900 photos are included to help with identification.

An earnest attempt was made by Craig Elevitch and Andrea Dean, organizers of Breadfruit Goes Bananas, to acquire as many different banana varieties as possible to sell to attendees at the festival. They succeeded in collecting more than 20 unusual varieties to the delight of banana enthusiasts and collectors, as well as those just learning about the wide variety of bananas that can be grown in Hawaii.

Among those offered were many edible varieties, as well as one small attractive ornamental specimen, zabrina. This unusual banana is described in Kepler’s book as a “striking tall, slender ornamental with red or maroon variegated leaves on the upper side and bright waxy purple on the underside.” The seeded fruit grows pointing skyward and ripens to a dark-yellow infused with red. It is quite an ornamental specimen.

After a whiff of the recipes Kepler prepared, many people purchased varieties like saba 1 and saba 2. Known for their versatility, these bananas grow tall and produce fruit on heavy stalks. They are starchy cooking bananas in savory dishes and also a great dessert banana when fully ripe. Saba 1, known locally as dippig, is one of the world’s favorite plantains and ripens to a tasty dessert banana. Saba 2 shares many characteristics with dippig but is smaller and almost square in shape because of the compact quality of the stalk.

The dwarf namwa is extremely popular in Thailand, but somewhat rare here. It shares many characteristics with the more familiar ice cream banana, except for the fruit coloration and the plant size. The young fruit of the ice cream develops on a 15-foot plant and has a unique silvery blue-green appearance. Namwa fruit is only slightly clouded when green and grows on trunks that often are less than 10 feet tall.

Silk fig is another dessert variety that can be purchased locally. This variety is characterized by small rounded fruit with a delicious taste, which some claim is superior to apple bananas. It can be astringent when picked too soon or used in recipes that require cooking. The variety originated in India where it is known as the true apple banana.

Another variety backyard growers may want to consider is the dwarf Chinese. This is a Cavendish-type banana that hails from China and has several attractive characteristics. This dwarf has the shortest trunk of any banana grown in Hawaii, averaging less than 10 feet tall. It also produces noticeably large bunches that are evenly configured for separating ease. The fruit is sweet, without the tartness of apple bananas.

Though numerous other varieties are grown in Hawaii and several other interesting specimens were on sale at the festival, these few can often be found at local nurseries to add interest and new flavors to your collection.

“The World of Bananas in Hawaii: Then and Now” is available at several local bookstores and nurseries. Call around and find it.

Tropical gardening helpline

Celeste asks: My soursop leaves are spotted. I think it might be mite damage. Can you help me positively identify the pest and offer some control advice?

Answer: It looks like you do have mites attacking your soursop.

Mites usually stay on the bottom sides of the leaves, and suck the juices from the leaf by puncturing it. These punctures appear as yellow dots on the leaf surface. Many different mite species attack fruit trees in Hawaii. One of several spider mites is most probably attacking your plant.

Spider mites are small, about the size of a pin head, and may be hard to spot on the tree. When you suspect spider mites, you can place a sheet of white paper under your plant and tap the leaves. If living mites are present, they should fall onto the paper and you’ll see them as tiny moving dots.

Mites generally prefer dry, dusty conditions and are often discouraged by humid conditions. Once you have determined that mites are present, you can remove many with a strong spray of water hitting the undersides of the leaves. Repeating this several times a day can increase humidity in the area and will probably get rid of the pest in a week or so. It is also the best way to avoid harming predatory insects that can help control the mite population.

If you want to apply insecticides and the infestation is small, insecticidal soaps can be effective. Spray once or twice a week until the insects are gone. Neem oil can be added to the soap solution to increase efficacy. Spray during evening hours or in early morning to avoid leaf burn that can occur in sunny situations. In heavy infestations, pyrethrum products may be more effective. Be sure to read and follow the directions on the labels of any insecticide you choose.

Email plant questions to konamg@ctahr.hawaii.edu for answers by certified master gardeners. Some questions will be chosen for inclusion in this column.

Diana Duff is a plant adviser, educator and consultant with an organic farm in Captain Cook.