Banana, or plantain, trees are actually no trees at all, but rather a giant form of grass. Indeed, bananas are the largest of herbaceous flowering plants…
Bananas come in two species, Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana, both originating in South-East Asia. The Arabs brought them to Africa in the Middle Ages, and the Spanish and Portuguese to Central and South America early in the Conquista.
Planning to extend my range of Cimarrons, or Maroon Negroes (see here and here), and wishing to create some scenery for them, I thought that one or two thickets of wild banana trees would be a good start.
As usual, I began with collecting a number of pictures on the Internet. Old botanical drawing prints also turned out being of great value, as they focus on details that are often missed, or not immediately discernable, in most photographs.
Banana leaves grow spirally to form the false stem, or“trunk”, the whole plant reaching a height of 3 to 7m and a thickness of 0.3 to o.5m. The leaves reach up to a length of about 2.5m and have a continuous margin, although normally this is torn and split by the wind and heavy tropical rains. Each plant usually bears a single flower spike (sometimes more in the wild), which develop into a bunch of up to a few hundreds banana fruits arranged in tiers, or hands, of about twenty.
To make my banana trees, I used very simple, inexpensive materials:
- A few toilet-paper roll cores for the stems or “trunks”.
- Wooden golf pegs to strengthen them.
- Kitchen twine for the leave stalks (or paper-covered metal garden twist ties).
- Craft paper for the leave blades.
- White glue to assemble the whole.
- Hot-melt glue to secure the banana trees to a cardboard base.
To make the stems of the banana trees, I tore the paper roll cores open and rolled them into slightly tapered tubes of varying height and thickness.
To make the leave stalks, I cut slightly different lengths of 1-mm thick kitchen twine and stiffened them with white glue (I used these in want of the more pratical paper-covered garden twist ties).
I then folded a piece of craft paper and outlined the shape of the leaves on it, which I cut, split at the fold, and glued on the twine stalks. I randomly cut trough the margin of the leaves to represent the slits caused by the action of the wind.
To represent the older leaves which make-up the stem of the banana trees, I cut the remaining pieces of torn paper roll cores into narrow strips, and glued them to the “trunk” in a spiral pattern going from the top downward (in order to obtain a convincing look, I constantly referred to pictures of the real thing in this phase).
Finally, I inserted an old, wooden golf peg into each tree and glued it in place, both to strengthen the model and to provide a solid surface for hot-gluing it to the thick cardboard base.
I completed my banana thicket adding a few shrubs, including a couple of fallen ones. The trunks of the shrubs are dry twigs glued together to a suitable shape, while the foliage is home-made, dyed ground foam. I covered the cardboard base with craft paper, which I textured with papier-mâché, coated with a light wash of white glue, and painted gray-brown with diluted acrylics. As a final touch, I added a bit of colored saw-dust, a mixture of ground pepper seeds, and pipe tobacco to represent the rotten remnants of fallen banana leaves.
I placed my painted Cimarrons in the thicket, as well as one of my Canadian Coureurs-des-bois, re-qualified for the occasion as a French renegade poacher, or Boucanier…