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.
I made my first visit to the Montreal Botanical Gardens about nine years ago. It was early August and the lotus flowers in both the Japanese Garden and the Chinese Garden were in bloom.
Two close friends had died the year before, just days after my birthday. We went to Montreal to get as far away as we could from the place we had seen them last. That trip did a lot to boost my spirits, but it was probably the lotus that made the biggest impression.
For nine years I pined for a return visit during the month of August to experience them in bloom again. This year it finally happened.
Unfortunately, I was only able to bring my digital camera with me. The day was unbearably hot and I was unable to lug a big camera bag around due to a shoulder injury. I’m happy with the digital shots, but of course, as a film lover, I can’t help feeling remorse about the photos I didn’t get to take. After all, it could be another 10 years before I see lotus in bloom again!
I’ve put together a limited edition printing of Lotus in Bloom notecards. There are five photos in the set. However, just a warning that we are going on a big trip during the month of December so I will be shutting down the online shop in about a week’s time.