TRI CITY — A banana plant growing on a two-acre property in Tri City has produced more than 60 bananas this season.
Don Zyzniewski, a retired timber contract specialist for the U.S. Forest Service, had bragged to his brother-in-law in Washington state about Douglas County having one of the nicest climates in the northwest.
“I was telling him how we can grow anything and everything, and I said in essence, we live in the banana belt,” Zyzniewski said.
“Is that so?” his brother-in-law asked, and gave Zyzniewski the banana plant, challenging him to grow bananas.
When he brought it down from Washington, it stood about two feet tall, but now at just two years old, the banana plant has grown to over 20 feet tall and has produced more than 60 bananas so far. Still immature, these tiny bananas aren’t ready for eating, but as the plant establishes its roots and matures, the produce will grow bigger and be edible.
The new shoots, called pups, have started to grow about knee-high around the main stem.
Zyznieski’s daughter Shelly Cullett, a first grade teacher at Canyonville Elementary School, brought some of the bananas to work to show her students.
The kids got to look at and touch the fruit, taking guesses at what the finger-sized bananas were. Some of them guessed correctly while others weren’t sure they were bananas.
Cullett also told the students about the time she visited a jungle in Bolivia several years ago, when she toured a banana plantation and learned about the eight different species of bananas that grow there.
She said her father is excited about the banana plant.
“He likes plants and takes a lot of pride in growing it and for it to actually be producing is exciting because you don’t normally see that in Oregon,” Cullett said.
According to David Fauss, a tropical forester with experience in Latin America, the banana is the largest herbaceous flowering plant in the world. This perennial herb is related to ginger, heliconia and bird of paradise flowers, and its fruit is actually a berry.
“It’s a paradise to live here,” Zyzniewski said of Douglas County.
Originally from Montana, Zyzniewski has worked for eight ranger districts, five national forests and the Weyerhaeuser company in Washington.
“I’ve been all over the West and got to see a lot of the country,” he said. “We have the best winter climate in the northwest.”
Every other year, the Tri City area gets a snowfall, but the ground doesn’t usually freeze.
Zyzniewski lost his wife of 52 years to cancer last spring, and spends much of his time in the garden.
At his property in Tri City, he takes care of two beefmaster cows and a plethora of plants, including palm trees, grape vines, 60 rose bushes and a fiery October glory maple tree.
“We are one of the most ideal spots in the whole West for growing,” Zyzniewski said. “This climate grows beautiful gardens because of our warm summer nights.”