Jungle John in Thailand exploring for new species of plants on his favorite elephant.Aroid Thrills and Tropical Frills – Tropical Plants for Temperate Gardens by John Banta

July 27, 2002 (Saturday) at 7:30pm at the Ruby C. McSwain Education Center, JC Raulston Arboretum, Raleigh, North Carlolina. A plant auction will follow the presentation. Plant explorer and hybridizer, "Jungle John" Banta will discuss new aroids and tropical plants potentially suitable for USDA Hardiness Zone 7.

John Banta is a phenomenal plantsman who has explored almost every continent in search of new and interesting plants. When he isn’t traveling the globe, he is hybridizing plants in his garden near the southwest coast of Florida. Local gardeners here continue to integrate tropical-looking plants into their own gardens, searching for new plants with larger leaf shapes, more vibrant leaf colors, and most importantly, plants with the look and feel of tropical lushness.

Over the last three decades John has brought into cultivation a number of plants from his travels and his own hybridizing program. His travels to Central and South America, as well as to Southeast Asia have produced such plants as Kaempferia grande, Zingiber sp. nov. ‘Midnight’, Schefflera sp. nov., Homalomena ‘Purple Sword’, and even a plant named in his honor, Calathea bantae.

One of his recent finds from the northern mountains of Thailand is a potentially new species of Ensete, a banana relative. This Ensete is an unbelievably gorgeous plant with leaves to 6 feet long and 18 inches wide on an almost trunkless trunk! The leaves radiate from almost ground level on upwards with its trunk barely visible. This is a truly unusual banana relative and perfect as a focal point of any tropical landscape.

John is a firm believer that new plant introductions do not require worldly travels. Breeding plants in your own backyard can be most productive. One of many hybrids that may already be growing in your garden that John made many years ago is Hedychium ‘Golden Butterfly’, the gold flowered butterfly ginger. He has produced many interesting hybrids of Anthurium such as ‘Big Splash’, a cross between A. watermaliense and A. spectabile, and ‘Dark Moma’, a cross between A. warocqueanum and A. papillaminum. His current work is concentrated in the genus, Kaempferia. His collection of over 50 species of this low growing ginger is yielding many new hybrids such as K. ‘Alva’, K. ‘Silver Cloud’, and K. ‘Titan’ which is over 3 feet across with 18-inch wide leaves.

For John, the only thing more exciting than discovering a new plant is to convert a plant collector into a plant breeder. The joy of seeing new genetic combinations reveal their beauty in your hybrids is like hearing the great organ in Saint Paul’s Cathedral.

Immediately following John’s talk, there will be an auction featuring some plants from his collection. His talk is just one part of a weekend event focused around aroids and tropical plants. For more information about the “Aroid Thrills and Tropical Frills” Summer Extravaganza, please visit the Web site of the International Aroid Society.

Click on the thumbnails below for larger images and for more information. All images Copyright © 2002 by John Banta.

International Aroid Society logo This page was created by Scott Hyndman for the I.A.S. on April 10, 2001.