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F.C.’s ‘Bearing’ Banana Tree: Is it Special or No?

Falls Church resident Mary Frances Moriarty was pleasantly surprised when a more than 25-year-old banana tree in her front yard bore fruit this year for the first time since 1994. Banana trees thrive in tropical climates, whereas Falls Church is beginning a chilly fall. FCbanana

Falls Church resident Mary Frances Moriarty was pleasantly surprised when a more than 25-year-old banana tree in her front yard bore fruit this year for the first time since 1994. Banana trees thrive in tropical climates, whereas Falls Church is beginning a chilly fall.

FCbanana

BEARING ITS BANANAS, the more than 25-year-old banana tree in Mary Frances Moriarty’s front yard in Falls Church shows off the fruits of its labor for the first time in 15 years. Moriarty (right) and her late husband Bill planted the tropical tree in the late 80s, though it’s sprouted nine bananas and counting in an already-cool fall, with lows in the upper 40s. (Photo: News-Press)

“We didn’t have a very hot summer, so I was amazed,” said Moriarty, who’s son, Tom, brought the first sign of reddish-purple leaves to her attention about six weeks ago.

Moriarty’s tree generally spends its winter indoors to keep it from dying. Poo-pooing the significance of the event, Merrifield Garden Center Plant Specialist David Yost argued that given its winters inside, “nothing extraordinary is happening here.”

However, a colleague of Yost, who viewed photos of Moriarty’s tree, believes it to be a Musa Rajapuri, a banana tree native of India and “not typically considered to be winter hardy in [Falls Church’s] climate.”

The tree doesn’t seem to mind recent F.C. lows in the upper 40s, already bearing nine bananas and counting.

Moriarty called the news of Yost’s opinion a “killjoy,” going on to say, “Too bad. All my friends were impressed.”

Yost said that the local growing season isn’t long enough for bananas to ripen. Moriarty, who said her 1994 bananas did not ripen enough to warrant a taste, vowed this time around would be a different story.

“Even if they don’t ripen, I’ll still taste them out of curiosity,” she said.

In the past, she’s trimmed off the tree’s top from about three to four feet up from the bottom and bagged it in her basement, only to watch it pierce through the top of the bag growing upward sometime around March or April.

“It’s really quite a sight,” said Moriarty.

Moriarty and her late husband, Bill, moved into their Hallwood Avenue home in 1961, though the tree wasn’t planted until the late 80s. It was Bill, an Alabama native, who scored the tree from a neighbor. The nearby resident had a towering display, which Bill spotted out on a walk and inquired about.

“Where my husband was from in Alabama, [banana trees] were much more common, so I think he was surprised at the time to see one in Falls Church,” said Moriarty.

Neighborly indeed, the gentleman was willing to let the Moriartys reap the fruits of his labor – literally – and gave Bill an offspring, a seedling which sprouted from the original.

The baby tree was planted in front of the Moriartys’ house and, much like now, strangely didn’t sprout actual banana bunches until 15 years after its planting, according to Moriarty.

When posed the question as to why this tree was bearing fruit once every 15 years, Merrifield’s Yost chalked it up to faulty plant care.

“There are many factors that could have played out here. Perhaps it wasn’t absorbing enough sun … It’s hard to tell not having seen it all play out from the start,” said Yost.

A framed photograph of Bill standing next to the same tree in 1994 sits in Moriarty’s living room as a reminder of its potential. She said her husband “would be delighted” to know the tree he faithfully planted more than two decades ago was beginning to show signs of fruitful life again.

“Bill wasn’t a great gardener, but he was very into nature and things like this. He would have so been pleased,” said Moriarty.

Vicky Schoenberger, president of the Falls Church Garden Club where Moriarty is a member, said she was happy to hear the news. Moriarty announced the bananas’ behavior at a club meeting to the equally-amused members.

“It’s unusual this time of year since bananas are a tropical plant,” said Schoenberger.

Yost begs to differ, saying, “It may be unusual in [Mary’s] eyes,” but that someone familiar with banana trees would say this is simply normal.

Normal or not, Moriarty and company remain dazzled.

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