The banana palm is an important plant all over the globe. Its deliciously sweet fruits are rich in fiber and potassium and are key ingredients in many dishes. People grow these palms for more than just their fruit, however. Humans have used parts of the banana palm throughout history for various trades, and still do today. They are also popular and practical additions to tropical and subtropical landscaping.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at how the banana palm is classified, how it reproduces, and how you can grow your own at home. We’ll also list a few cultivars that you may want to consider.
|Information on Banana Palm Tree|
|Botanical Name||Musa sp.|
|Common Name||Banana palm, banana tree|
|Water||Regular watering, mist leaves during dry spells or when humidity is low.|
|Soil Conditions||Well-draining, heavy in organic matter.|
|Hardiness||USDA zones 9–11|
What Is a Banana Palm?
Believe it or not, the banana palm is not a tree. It’s not a palm, either. Although it may bear a striking resemblance to both, the banana palm is considered an herb and is more closely related to ginger and turmeric. There are over 70 species of banana palm, all of them belonging to the family Musaceae. The largest of them, Musa ingens, is also the world’s largest herb.
The thick trunk that you see is a collection of tightly furled leaf stalks called a pseudostem. Each one is an offshoot of the plant’s rhizome, which is an underground stem. Throughout the growing season, the plant stores nutrients in its rhizome and spreads out beneath the ground. The banana palm produces all of its above-ground growth from its rhizome as well. Along the rhizome, there are small growth points, called nodes, which are capable of producing not only pseudostems but roots as well.
While there are many species of banana, there are even more cultivated varieties. Currently, people grow over 1000 distinct cultivars all over the world. Surprisingly, almost all of these cultivars are hybrids of just two species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. These hybrids are the result of controlled cross-breeding via sexual reproduction.
How Do Banana Palms Reproduce?
Banana palms reproduce in two ways. One, the production of fruit and seed, is certainly the most familiar. Each banana that contains fertile seeds is the result of successful sexual reproduction. This mostly happens with wild species, as many cultivars are sterile. The second of its reproductive methods produce clonal offspring via asexual reproduction.
Each plant is monoecious, meaning that it produces flowers that are capable of self-fertilizing. To produce fruit, the banana palm will first produce an inflorescence, which is the botanical term for a plant’s flower structure. This inflorescence consists of three specific parts: the peduncle, the bunch, and the rachis.
The peduncle attaches directly to the rhizome and emerges from the center of the leaf bundle. It is the stalk that supports the rest of the flower. The next basic part, the rachis, is the secondary stalk portion where the plant bears its fruit. Groups of ovary-bearing flowers grow in clusters called “hands” along the rachis. These flowers make up the third part of the inflorescence called the bunch. They will produce bananas whether they become fertilized or not.
Each pseudostem will only flower one time. Once it has produced its bananas, it dies back to the ground. Around this time, tiny palms called “pups” or “suckers” will begin to appear around the base of the plant. In the case of wild plants, they remain in place and become new pseudostems. In cultivation, however, they are either pruned back or divided from the parent rhizome and planted in a new location. This ensures that each new plant can direct all of its nutrients to fruit production.
What Are Banana Palms Used For?
The first, and probably the most obvious use for the banana palm is the production of fruit. While not all species produce edible fruit, there are many edible cultivars to choose from. The cultivar most commonly used in commercial fruit production is the Cavendish banana. It belongs to the category of dessert bananas and is the type that you are most likely to see at your local grocery store. The majority of bananas, like the plantain, are considered cooking bananas, however. They are starchier and usually less sweet.
While it is delicious and versatile, the fruit is not the only usable part of the banana plant. Leaves are often used to serve, store, and transport food in many cultures. Leaf and petiole fibers, once dried, can be woven into baskets, mats, and fabrics. They can also be used to create cordage.
Cultivators often chop up spent banana pseudostems and use them as mulch to provide soil cover and aid in moisture retention. Over time, the chopped plant matter releases its nutrients for new pups to use.
How to Care for a Banana Palm
There are over 70 different species of banana palm in the genus Musaceae. While there are some outliers, many of them come from tropical and subtropical environments and require similar care. If you’re planting a banana palm outdoors to harvest fruit, be sure that you’ll have at least 9 months of warm weather. This may vary depending on the cultivar you have chosen. Be aware that palms grown indoors do not usually produce fruit.
Many banana species require full, direct sunlight for at least 6 hours per day. You should keep an eye on them, however. While they need plenty of sunlight, they also require high levels of humidity to keep their leaves healthy. During spells of hot, dry weather, you may need to mist your plant’s leaves to keep them from shriveling. Planting several banana palms together can allow them to shade each other as well as maintain humidity levels between their leaves.
Most banana palms hail from tropical environments and require a large amount of water. You should monitor the soil and ensure that it stays consistently moist. And while you need to avoid letting your plant’s soil dry out, it is also important not to overwater. If water puddles up and takes a long time to drain, it’s a sign that you are oversaturating your soil and should cut back as standing water and wet soil lead to root rot.
These plants require well-draining soils that have high organic matter content. Because of their water demand, it is important to mulch around their growing area to increase the length of time that the soil will hold onto moisture. As a bonus, this mulch will break down over time to supplement the soil with additional nutrients that can help fertilize your palm.
Banana palms need a lot of nutrients to produce healthy growth. In particular, they are heavy consumers of nitrogen and potassium.
Animal manures can supply your plant with these vital macronutrients. Chicken manure in particular is good for banana palms, as it contains a good ratio of nitrogen to potassium. Before adding any type of animal manure to your plants, it is important to properly compost them or at least allow them to age. Young or fresh manures can contain too many nutrients for your plants to handle at once and can cause root burns.
Top-dressing your plant’s soil with composted plant waste will help provide micro- and macronutrients as well. By applying organic material on top of the soil, you allow nutrients to leech down into your plant’s root zone over time without disturbing the soil.
If you’ve chosen a cultivar that produces edible bananas, you will be able to harvest your fruit about 9–12 months after planting.
Most often, growers will harvest the entire bunch at one time by cutting through the peduncle. This will leave you with an abundance of fruit that will all ripen around the same time. If you don’t think you’ll be able to share them all quickly enough, you may be able to remove individual hands from the bunch.
Remember that your banana palm will die back once it has produced its fruit. Keep an eye out for new suckers and make use of old pseudostem foliage in crafts or as mulch for future banana plants.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © aappp/Shutterstock.com
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