In the spring, summer and fall months, students on the North Dakota State campus can study in the shade of pine trees and walk by planters blossoming with petunias. But while most of the foliage on campus blends in with the natural North Dakota landscape, a few tall, tropical plants stick out as a bit peculiar for the cold climate.
One distinctive plant drawing curiosity grows out of the planter near the south entrance to the Memorial Union on Administration Avenue. Green and red-ribbed, the plant’s enormous, several-feet-long leaves extend up and outward like the crown of a pineapple.
“It’s not like anything else around here,” freshman Aydrik Schuh said of the plant outside of the Memorial Union.
One of seven of its kind on campus, the plant is actually an ensete banana plant. Unlike the apple trees near South Engineering, however, these banana plants are not a fruit-producing variety.
“It’s very large,” junior Andrea Erlandson said. “It’s a very unusual size for a plant.”
Erlandson guessed the plant was from somewhere tropical, perhaps the Bahamas. Schuh said the plant looked like it belonged in either California or Florida.
According to NDSU Grounds and Landscaping Services, the ensete banana is native to the eastern edge of the African plateau. The plants were selected for campus due to their quick growth patterns, non-fruit producing nature and uniqueness.
“It’s fun for us to try something different and out of the ordinary,” Charlie Toms, assistant coordinator of Landscape Services, said.
Grown from seed in the greenhouses at NDSU, the current set of ensete banana plants have been gradually gaining height for the past three years. At one point, Landscaping Services measured the plants outside the President’s House to be almost 12 feet tall, not including the planter.
Despite their tropical origins, Toms said the plants are actually rather low-maintenance. Ensete banana leaves hold onto water, helping them adapt to the drier weather.
“They’re not as thirsty as what you’d think,” he said. The plants are only watered two to three times per week when taken inside for the winter.
They are highly susceptible to damage from Fargo’s relentless winds, though. A few weeks ago, high-powered storm winds shredded some of the plants’ leaves.
“These colder fall days, they’re not enjoying,” Toms said.
Usually, the plants would have been taken inside for the winter earlier to protect them from the freezing winds. However, since this is the final year of glory for this batch of banana plants, Landscaping Services is letting “nature take its course” for a little while longer. New banana plants will be grown for next year. Since the plants will be younger, they will be noticeably smaller.
“For the most part, we’ve gotten positive feedback from people,” he said.
Toms said he hadn’t considered how the plants might impact campus visitors’ perception of the North Dakota climate. For anyone looking for a hidden motivation behind the tropical plants’ placement, there really isn’t one. The staff of Landscaping Services simply likes banana plants. And, in general, it seems everyone else does, too.