Musa is a large genus of flowering plants that may produce either plantains or edible bananas. Species within this genus are commonly known as banana plants, edible bananas, plantain plants, and dessert bananas — but they are most often referred to as banana trees.
That’s because despite the fact that these are not woody plants at all, and their “trunks” consist of leaf stalks (and are therefore not technically trees at all), they do have the ability to grow as tall as many trees.
The Musa genus is one of three genera in the Musaceae family of huge herbaceous plants that often appear to be trees, due to the overlapping sheathes of their foliage.
Musa acuminata is one of the most famous species within the Musa genus, and it includes both wild banana plants and cultivars, which are often grown with seedless fruits to increase their appeal to consumers. There are, however, numerous species and cultivars, and we don’t want to highlight a single one. That’s because there’s a banana plant out there just waiting to slide into your life — if you live in the right climate, you can grow banana trees outdoors in your garden, but if not, much more compact varieties can also make for absolutely delightful houseplants.
If you are interested in getting yourself a banana plant, however, know what you are getting into. These are not exactly low-maintenance plants, but they’re worth the love and care you’ll offer them.
About Banana Plants
- Banana plants are often called banana trees (and we’ll be continuing the trend, despite the fact that it’s not scientifically accurate) for good reason — they’re among the largest herbaceous plants to grace the face of the Earth. When you really think about it, banana trees have an otherworldly, alien, appearance, so it probably won’t surprise you that the Musa genus has been around since prehistoric times! Just imagine the dinosaurs walking among them!
- Banana trees are native to the tropical regions of Africa and Asia, as well as Australia and Oceania (specifically New Guinea). They have been grown in any warmer region for centuries already, however, and in the United States, bananas are mainly cultivated outdoors in Florida and Hawaii. Most commercially-grown edible bananas come from Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
- Banana plants are, of course, most famous for their edible fruits — but despite the widespread popularity of the banana, not many people know that these fruits are technically berries.
- The Cavendish banana, a subspecies of Musa acuminata, are the most popular, and (until recently, at least) likely the only banana you have ever eaten if you are from the United States, Europe, or the UK. Banana fruits are, however, diverse in size, shape, and color, and they absolutely don’t all look like the large, yellow, long fruits you see in supermarkets. Some are black, brown, green, or red in color, even when ripe. Many are much smaller than the supermarket variety, and when grown in the wild, the fleshy fruits have seeds.
- Different parts of the banana plant have medicinal properties. The fruits (bananas) are of course nutrient-rich, but you already know about this, so let’s skip to the interesting bit — the fibrous stem of the banana plant has been used to treat hypertension and the flowers are said to help with bronchitis.
- Banana leaves are not just exceptionally beautiful, they also make for a great organic food packaging tool in many countries where they grow abundantly, such as in India.
- The origins of the genus name Musa are a matter of debate — some say that the genus was named after Roman doctor Anontius Musa, while others speculate that the word comes from an ancient language in the territories of what is today New Guinea.
- Banana plants are vulnerable to a number of pests, including weevils, nematodes, thrips, and scarring beetles. They can also develop leaf spot, leaf streak, and the bacterial plant disease Moko disease.
- Gardeners with pets will be happy to learn that banana trees are not toxic to cats and dogs.
Banana Tree Features: An Overview
- Banana trees — Musa species — are large herbaceous plants that flower and produce fruits. They feature large and vibrant leaves that emerge from their upright stalks. Leaves also originate from the corms of the banana plant, giving the appearance of a more tree-like structure.
- Because so many different species and subspecies, as well as cultivars, exist, it would be impossible to make any general statements about the size of the banana plant. Some of the smallest banana plants grow no taller than two feet (just over half a meter), with an even more modest spread of just a foot (about 30 centimeters). The largest banana plants can grow to be 30 feet tall (over nine meters) and 15 feet (four and a half meters) wide.
- No matter the ultimate size of the subspecies or cultivar you choose, banana plants are fast growers.
- Banana trees have large leaves — growing as many of 40 new ones during each growing season. The stems fold into one another, creating a trunk-like appearance. The leaves are elongated with deep incisions, and are hairless, waxy, smooth, and waterproof.
- These plants feature adventitious roots with suckers, which grow into new banana plants.
- Banana trees flower during the spring time, producing female flowers, which are often said to look like “hands”, and male flowers, which look like almond-shaped spikes of a deep red color.
- Once the flowers wither, fruits appear — these are bananas! Underneath the skin, which can have a variety of different colors, fleshy fruit, typically with seeds, can be found. Not all banana plants grown as ornamentals produce tasty fruits.
Growing Banana Plants
It is important to emphasize that banana plants or banana trees encompass an entire genus — Musa. There are not only numerous species, but also a multitude of subspecies, hybrids, and cultivars. Most of these thrive in rather similar conditions, but there are notable exceptions. Before you bring a banana plant into your garden or your home (as a houseplant), research which particular variety is best suited to your climate conditions and your personal preferences.
Almost all banana plants favor warm climate conditions and, being native to tropical and subtropical regions, they do not usually tolerate frost at all well. Banana plants need at least six hours of daily sunlight to thrive, and ideally more. However, when deciding where to plant them (if you are intending to do so outdoors), you also need to keep in mind that banana trees cannot cope with heavy winds, which will irreparably damage their leaves.
In terms of temperature, even the most hardy banana plants don’t do well in temperatures below around 75 °F (24 °C). If you live in a region where temperatures dip below that, and especially if your area enjoys frost, you should not plant banana trees in the garden. You can still, however, enjoy these beautiful plants as houseplants.
- Growing banana plants at home promotes sustainability and self-sufficiency. Customers can reduce their reliance on store-bought bananas, which often come from far distances, and enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting their own organic fruit.
- Bananas are packed with essential nutrients like potassium, vitamin C, and dietary fiber. By growing their own banana plants, customers can have easy access to this nutritious fruit, supporting a healthy lifestyle.
- Banana plants not only provide delicious fruit but also serve as ornamental additions to the landscape. With their large, lush leaves and tall growth, they can enhance the visual appeal of gardens and create a tropical ambiance.
- Banana plants are prolific fruit producers, yielding multiple bunches of bananas throughout the growing season. Customers can enjoy a plentiful supply of fresh, homegrown bananas for themselves and their families.
- Banana plants offer customers the opportunity to grow their own unique and exotic fruit right in their backyard. The distinct flavor and tropical appeal of homegrown bananas can't be replicated by store-bought varieties.
Last update on 2024-01-31 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API
Musa species need rich soil, and prefer acidic conditions. They prefer moist but well-draining soil and are vulnerable to fungal diseases if their root systems become waterlogged.
These plants absolutely require an ongoing fertilizer regime, and a balanced regime is best here. In addition, to ensure that the soil remains rich, give these hungry plants compost regularly throughout their growing season. This is true whether you are growing banana trees indoors as houseplants, or outside in the garden.
In terms of pruning, gardeners are recommended to prune the banana tree heavily before bananas appear, making sure than one central stem remains in place. Once the fruit season is over, the plant’s suckers will replace the current plant. Prune the plant so that one sucker has the opportunity to thrive and take over.
Banana pests and diseases, once present, are extremely difficult to get under control. Gardeners can try to keep their plants healthy by sterilizing tools used for their care, and spacing plants appropriately so that if one plant becomes infected, others can remain healthy. Pesticides are notoriously ineffective at treating banana pests.
Watering Banana Trees
Banana trees are native to the tropical areas of Asia, Africa, Australia, and Oceania, which means that they thrive in warm and moist conditions. Banana plants thrive in humid climates, which allows them to absorb moisture from the air. You bet that your banana plant, whether grown in the garden in the right climate or indoors are a houseplant, is a very thirsty plant, too! Just how much water will you need to give your banana tree, though, will depend on several factors. Especially during the growing season, their thirst will never be quenched.
If you’re growing a banana plant in a container or large planter indoors, your banana plant will need frequent watering whenever the soil is dry — you can feel the top layer of soil to see if it is nearly dry and water accordingly, without ever allowing the soil to dry out completely. Those banana trees grown in containers will certainly appreciate a deep watering once in a while, too.
Growing banana plants outside, however, requires a slightly different approach when it comes to deciding just how much you need to water them. Banana plants that get just about an inch of rainfall each week won’t need any extra water. If it hasn’t rained in a while, however, and you feel the soil around it is nearly dry, definitely water your banana tree.
While banana trees need moist soil to survive, they do not cope well with soggy conditions. This is why it is so important for the soil to be well-draining.
Propagating Banana Trees
To keep your own banana plant growing in the same location, you only need to prune it. The suckers will replace the current banana growth. To propagate the banana plant, you have a few different options. They are division, tissue culture, and sometimes from seed (although some varieties are seedless).
Tissue culture propagation is an extremely technical process and you’ll even need lab supplies, making it a bad choice for the regular gardener. Propagating from seed, however, is usually not even possible as most bananas are sterile and won’t have any seeds you can use for propagation. This makes propagation through division the best choice and it is actually a fairly easy process.
To propagate your banana plant through division you need to detach the suckers from the rhizome, for which you can use a spade or other sharp and fairly large instrument. The sucker now needs to be allowed to dry, until it is no longer shiny, and can be planted in spring in the right location in the garden, or in a planter or container. If you are planning to plant a new banana tree in your garden, keep in mind that the leaves retain moisture more effectively when several plants are grouped fairly closely together. On the other hand, also leave some space to protect each individual from pests if another is affected.
Banana plants — members of the Musa genus more commonly called banana trees — are delightful plants that can be grown outdoors in warm and humid climates that do not receive frost, and can be grown successfully as houseplants in cooler climates.
If you are looking for the right banana to grow as a houseplant, choose a more compact species and impede is growth through pruning. Before you add a banana plant to your home or garden, take some time to learn about the many different species, subspecies, and cultivars, and choose one that appeals to you visually, once you know you can meet its needs. Banana plants are high-maintenance in terms of watering and fertilizer, but give a lot in return, too. Depending on the species you choose, that may well include its famous edible fruits — which can be delicious even if they look nothing like the bananas you see in the supermarket!