Musa Sikkimensis Is An Interesting Challenge
First of all, Musa sikkimensis is a banana plant, a rather special banana plant in fact. It is not what one would call a tropical plant, as is the usual case with a banana plant. This plant comes from Sikkim, in the Himalayas, and is found in elevations around 6,000 feet. Consequently it is hardy regions which can have cold winters and tolerates frost and freezing temperatures up to a point. It is classified as a tender perennial and in colder weather regions is often taken inside during the winter months. It is considered hardy in USDA zones 8 through 11.
Musa sikkimensis is an extremely attractive plant, a distinction shared with other plants in the banana family. While its fruit is considered edible, it is grown primarily for its foliage. It is a monocarpic plant, meaning that it only sets fruit one time, then dies. Also known as the Darjeeling Banana tree, Musa sikkimensis can grow to a height of 20', with 12' to 15' being more typical. This plant can be a real challenge to start, but once established is an easy keeper. Its watering requirements are average, but the soil must be kept moist and not allow to dry out. Planting in a medium which has good moisture retention without becoming waterlogged will usually result in a healthy, vibrant plant.
A Rapid Grower - The trunk of the plant, not actually a true trunk can reach 18 inches in diameter. Leaves are red and purple when new, becoming green with age and often red mottled. It is fast growing. Musa sikkimensis seedlings have been observed to grow 3" the first day of sprouting, and it is not unusual for a plant to grow to a height of 3 to 6 feet the first year, doubling in height the second. It is highly suitable for container planting, especially in areas where it needs to be moved indoors or placed in a greenhouse during the winter months. It has been successfully grown outdoors in cooler climates such as the coastal areas of Oregon.
The Challenge, Sprouts - The joy, if you can call it that, in growing Musa sikkimensis, is getting the seeds to sprout. Once that happens, you're off to the races, as aftercare is generally easy. Germination however can be slow and erratic. Most owners of this plant recommend purchasing at least 50 seeds if you want several plants and at least 10 seeds if you want only a single plant. In reviewing plant owner forums, germination rates vary from 6% to 90%, but by far most germination rates are closer to the lower number. Unlike beans or sunflowers which reward you with sprouts in a week or less, the Darjeeling Banana seeds more often than not take at least a month to germinate and sometimes as long as 6 months! If you plant several seeds they will not necessarily germinate at the same time, in fact this is seldom the case. In planting 50 seeds, you may get 3 or 4 sprouts within one month, and another small number within the second month. After that you may or may not get more sprouts.
Those who have purchased seeds have attempted a variety of different ways to encourage the seeds to sprout. Some obviously have more success than others. Patience is of course the major requirement on the part of the gardener, but planting the seeds in the right medium and keeping the planted seeds at room temperature or higher appear to give the best results. Remember, 10% germination is considered a good result. There is of course the possibility that you could purchase 50 seeds, enjoy a 90% germination rate, and have banana trees for the entire neighborhood!
A mixture of potting soil or topsoil, vermiculite or perlite, and sand seems to work best. Since the seeds will be in the planting medium for at least a month and perhaps several, heavy planting mixes should be avoided, or the seeds may rot. The pots should be kept at room temperature, or preferably higher temperatures (around 90F). A “germination dance” may help as well.