Banana plant busts through glass roof at Smith College conservatory

Laste modified: Thursday, January 16, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Not to be outdone by the fall mum show — or the even showier spring bulb show — a determined banana plant in the Smith College Botanic Garden’s Lyman Plant House broke through a pane of glass in the 30-foot-high greenhouse roof over the weekend.

Though conservatory manager Rob Nicholson said he’d never seen such a phenomenon in his 21 years on the job, knowing what plants can do, he also wasn’t entirely surprised.

“Plants just have a lot of power behind them when they’re pushing against stuff,” Nicholson said. “Every homeowner knows that. They can grow where you don’t want them.”

Nicholson said there was one year when an agave plant was growing so aggressively that plant house workers removed a pane of glass to let it grow through for one summer. When the cold weather came, they trimmed the plant back and replaced the pane.

Nicholson said he learned about the situation Monday morning when he arrived at the plant house on College Lane. A staff member who worked on the weekend left a note on his door alerting him to the problem.

“I see a lot of amazing things with plants in my job — this one is amazing and annoying,” Nicholson said.

Given the cold weather bearing down, he immediately called the college’s physical plant department to put in a work order, though he is concerned about the job, having been up on the roof himself on occasion.

“I’ve done it and it’s scary,” Nicholson said. “I’m worried because one of our crew members is going to be put at significant risk to fix it and it has to be fixed.”

The most dangerous aspect of the work is that the pane must be repaired from the outside, rather than the inside, which means the worker has to be on the glass rooftop.

The last time glass panes had to be repaired on the plant house roof, about 18 months ago, Smith contracted the job out and then wound up hiring the person who did the job to work in the physical plant.

“It’s a specialized, highly skilled person,” he said.

Asked about the age of the banana plant, Nicholson said he has seen old photographs dating back to 1904 that show same banana plant in nearly the same location, which means, he said, “there’s a very good chance that that plant has been around for more than 100 years.”

The fall mum show opened Saturday, and runs though Nov. 17. Its hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.