The banana tree (Musa ssp.) is a large herbaceous plant belonging to the genus Musa and family Musaceae (banana family).
There are around 70 known species of Musa and over 1,000 cultivars of banana plants, including the supermarket favorite Cavendish banana (Musa acuminata “Dwarf Cavendish”).
Only about half of the 1,000 banana cultivars produce the edible banana fruit (botanically a berry) or related plantain, which is a greener starchier cooked version of the fruit.
Banana Tree/Plant Care
When grown as indoor houseplants, bananas seldom produce fruit, but will produce very huge, bright green or red-marked leaves emerging from a series of pseudostems (leaf sheafs).
Banana plants grow quite fast and tall (up to 10×5 feet or 3×1.5 m), and thrive in bright, humid environments – perfect for a yard or a large home in a hot and humid climate.
A few frost-resistant and dwarf varieties do exist, making it slightly easier to grow in colder and smaller homes.
Whichever cultivar you choose to grow, banana plants certainly invite tropical flair.
Banana plants are evergreen perennials which require large containers (15-gallon pots for optimal growth when mature).
They should be planted in the spring or fall in a well-draining, well-aerated, slightly acidic (5.5-7.0 pH), and compost-rich soil.
Banana plants grow numerous (200-500) fibrous roots from the rhizome and may spread up to 5 ft. (1.5 m) deep and 15 ft. (4.9 m) laterally.
Bananas are very sensitive to drought and require lots of water to thrive. The University of Florida recommends about 4-6 inches (102-152 mm) of water per month or 1-1.5 inches (2.5-4cm) of water per week for optimal growth.
Avoid waterlogged soils and allow the soil to drain between waterings.
Bananas require lots of bright light, even tolerating direct summer sun. Shelter from wind damage when planted outdoors, and ensure maximum sun exposure (min. of 6-10 hours or more).
If planting indoors, place near a south- or southeast-facing window for maximum light exposure.
Humidity & Temperature
Ideal tropical plants, bananas grow best in hot and humid climates. Dry air will damage the banana leaves, so mist daily and maintain humidities above 50%.
The optimal growth temperature is 27°C (98.6°F), but they can tolerate slightly lower or higher temperatures. Avoid frosty temperatures below 9 or 10°C (48-50°F) or leaves will stop growing.
For new plants, feed with one quarter cup of balanced liquid fertilizer once a month in the spring or summer during the first 3-4 months.
This can be increased over time to two cups per month during the growing seasons when they begin to flower.
Banana plants produce two types of smaller offshoots (aka pups or suckers) from the main underground root stem (aka rhizome or corms): 1) sword suckers, and 2) water suckers.
Sword suckers, which have skinny sword-like leaves, can be separated from the rhizome with shears or a shovel and then replanted to make new banana plants. Make sure to prune the leaves and roots and allow the sword suckers to dry out for a few days before planting.
Water suckers have larger leaves, and are more loosely attached to the main rhizome. When planted, they may root, but will not develop into full-fledged plants.
Diseases & Pests
In general, banana plants are susceptible to pests and diseases.
Possible fungal and viral diseases include:
- Anthracnose (Colletotrichum musae) which causes dark brown peel spots.
- Black sigatoka or black leaf streak (Mycosphaerella fijiensis), which causes red/brown patches on topside of leaves.
- Cigar end rot (Verticillium fructigena), which causes the peels to develop wrinkled darkened ends that resemble cigar butts.
- Cordana leaf spot (Cordana musae), which causes oval-shaped yellow or brown spots near leaf margins.
- Panama disease (Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense), which infect the roots and stems, causing yellowing wilting leaves and buckling plants.
- Rhizome soft rot (Erwinia carotovora), which causes rhizomes to break or turn yellow/brown.
- Banana bacterial wilt (Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum), which causes yellowing leaves, blacking male buds, and wilted plants. As well as yellow ooze from the fruit.
Common pests include:
- Aphids, which look like specks of black dirt and cause curled and shriveled leaves.
- Banana skippers, which are butterfly larvae that eat and cause leaves to curl.
- Black weevils, which tunnel through the banana stem and corm, causing wilting.
- Coconut scales, which produce small, flat, white acne-looking scales on the leaves and peels.
- Nematodes, which are super common and cause the fruit and plant to rot.
- Scarring beetle, moths, and spider mites, which feed on the stems, leaves, and roots of banana trees, causing scars and spots to form.
- Banana Rust Thrips, which cause rusty red to dark brown discoloration of the fruit.
Some diseases and pests may require destruction of the plant, and others may be controlled with commercially-available fungicide, pesticide, or natural predators.
According to the ASPCA, banana plants are non-toxic to humans, pets, and horses.
Banana Tree Genera
As currently classed, the banana family (Musaceae) consists of three genera: Musa, Ensete, and Musella.
The genus Musa contains about 70 known species, including most commonly edible banana cultivars.
Genus Ensete has 6-8 accepted species, with only one commercially grown species cultivated in Ethiopia (Ensete ventricosum, aka Abyssinnian banana or “false banana”).
The genus Musella contains a singular species (Musella lasiocarpa or “Golden Lotus Banana”) from China, and bounced classification from Musa to Ensete, then back to Musa, before finally being regarded as a distinct genus in 1978.
Other banana species are still being discovered today and this could change.
Banana tree Characteristics
The banana plant is sometimes incorrectly called a banana tree due to the tree-like trunks and stems, which are actually pseudostems made of leaf sheaths not wood tissue.
Banana tree flower
The banana tree flower, often called “banana blossoms” or “banana hearts,” is the spear-shaped purple flower at the end of a cluster of bananas. It is a nutrient and fiber-rich ingredient commonly used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking as part of a stir-fry or curry.
12 Most popular banana tree varieties
- Hardy Banana (Basjoo) – Also known as Japanese banana, this banana species is known as being the most cold-hardy banana. Its fibers are used as textiles in Japan and as part of Traditional Chinese Medicine.
- Gros Michel – Also known as “Big Mike,” these bananas were once the most commonly grown bananas globally before falling victim to Panama disease. Their fruit are a bit thicker, straighter, and sweeter (some say tastier) than the common Cavendish.
- Blue Java (ice cream) – A cold-tolerant cultivar that’s known for its sweet and aromatic fruit, which is said to have a consistency similar to ice-cream and a flavor like vanilla.
- Dwarf Cavendish – One of the most commonly cultivated banana varieties, the supermarket Cavendish’s shorter stalks make them more wind-resistant. Their leaves are purple or red when young, but mature into green when they start to flower.
- Double Mahoi – Similar to the Cavenidish but producing up to two bushel heads of bananas, these bananas are often used in desserts for their sweet and tasty nature.
- Siam Ruby – Also known as the red banana tree for their stunning ruby red leaves with tiny green flecks. These plants love heat and humidity, which turn their leaves redder.
- Grand Nain (Chiquita) – A taller (but virtually indistinguishable) cultivar of the Cavendish, their name means “Large Dwarf” in French. They are also known as Chiquita bananas.
- Zebrina (blood banana) – Also known as blood banana, this variety is named for the dark red patches on its leaves. These plants are largely ornamental, but produce smaller slender edible bananas with seeds.
- Lady fingers – Largely ornamental in its dwarf state, this variety produces small, thin-skinned, and relatively sweeter bananas. The bananas also oxidize slower when cut, making them great for fruit salads.
- Goldfingers – Created in Honduras for greater wind, cold, and disease resistance, this cultivar is fast growing and produces what many consider superior-tasting apple flavored bananas.
- Thai black – Grown mostly for their large ornamental leaves which double as shading, these plants make great garden plants and can reach 25 feet (7.6 m) in warm climates. Their trunks also turn black as they mature. The seeded fruits are largely inedible.
- Apple manzano – Commonly grown in Mexico and Central America, these banana plants produce shorter, chubbier thick-skinned bananas that turn black when ripe. They are said to taste like apples when mature, and like pineapple when fully ripened.
How to grow banana trees in containers
To grow banana plants in containers, we recommend selecting a slower-growing and shorter dwarf species or cultivar. As banana plants grow fast, a 15-gallon minimum pot size is ideal for accommodating the spreading root system.
Fast-draining, well-aerated, and compost-rich soil is ideal for potting. Make sure the pot is also near a source of bright direct sunlight – the more the better.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, most banana trees can grow real bananas, though some varieties are mainly ornamental as they produce inedible seeded fruits. Bananas often flower in the spring or early summer, and a banana fruit should develop in early summer in ideal (i.e. hot, humid, bright) conditions often only attainable outdoors.
Most banana trees take between 10-15 months to start producing fruit. The exact timing will depend on the cultivar selected as well as the growing conditions. The hotter, more humid, and brighter the conditions, the more likely and sooner fruits will bear.
Banana plants are monocarpic, meaning they will die after they flower and bear fruit (~10-15 months). However, after bearing fruits, banana stems will often be chopped down where baby shoots will then re-emerge from the same rhizome to produce new fruit-bearing plants. The rhizomes themselves can last over 15 years.
This depends on the cultivar grown. The shortest banana plant, the “Truly tiny” cultivar, grows to only about 2-3 feet (0.6-1m), making them perfect potted plants. Other varieties like the Musa ingens, however, can grow up to 49 feet (15 m) in the wild tropical rainforests of New Guinea.
Banana plants grow best in hot (ideally 27°C or 98.6°F), humid (above 50%), and wet (ideally 1-1.5 in or 2.5-4cm of water per week) tropical climates with nutrient-rich, well-draining and aerated soil. They are sensitive to drought and do best in USDA zones 9a-10a, though some frost-tolerant varieties like the Basjoo can survive moderate winter frosts.
No, it’s not possible. Most bananas bought in supermarkets, such as the Dwarf Cavendish (most common), are actually a cultivar that has been selected and bred for their sterile (seedless) mutations. These sterile cultivars are then propagated vegetatively (asexually) by planting the corms or sucker sprouts. Bananas in the wild do fertilize and develop seeds, but they are largely inedible.
 Crane, J., & Balerdi, C. (2020). Banana Growing in the Florida Home Landscape. Ask IFAS, University of Florida. Retrieved October 7, 2022, from https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/MG040.
 Authors unknown, (n.d.). Diseases and Pests, Description, Uses, Propagation. Plant Village, Penn State University. Retrieved October 8, 2022, from https://plantvillage.psu.edu/topics/banana/infos.
 Häkkinen, M., & Hong, W. (2007). New Species and Variety of Musa (Musaceae) from Yunnan, China. A Journal for Botanical Nomenclature 17(4), 440-446. Retrieved October 8, 2022 from http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/china/novon/novo-17-04-440.pdf.