Family StrelitziaceaeThe Natal wild banana grows mostly in coastal dune vegetation and in evergreen forests near the coast. It is a common feature of the coastal vegetation from East London northwards. It grows in the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and up into Mozambique towards Zimbabwe.
It grows up to 12m high and 4m wide. It is an evergreen tree with multi-stems that form dense clumps. The stem is woody and smooth in texture. It is light to dark grey in colour and marked with old leaf scars. Attached to the stem by long, thick leaf stalks are the enormous, opposite leaves that are shiny and grey-green in colour, with blades capable of reaching up to 2m in length. These tear in the wind and come to resemble giant feathers. Although not related to the true bananas or the wild banana Ensete ventricosum, the leaves and growth habit of S. nicolai are somewhat similar and probably account for the common name.
The flower of the Natal wild banana is a typical crane-flower inflorescence, up to 500mm long. The flowers of this tree have white sepals with blue petals and consist of 5 purplish blue, boat-shape sheaths. The whole flower resembles the head of the bird, with a white crest and purple beak. The tree flowers throughout the year with a peak in spring-summer. The inflorescence is compound (more than one flower).
The seeds are black in colour, with a tuft of a bright orange woolly aril on the lobe. They are produced mostly in March to July.
Leaf stalks are dried and used to make a rope for building fish kraals and huts. The immature seeds are edible and tasty. The flowers provides nectar that attracts sunbirds, especially Olive Sunbirds and Grey Sunbirds. Vervet and Samango monkeys feed on the soft part of the flowers as well as on the orange aril of the seeds. Birds and blue duiker also feed on the flowers. Frogs and ducks often shelter in the clumps along rivers for protection.