An herb composed of a fleshy underground rhizome with roots, numerous shoots,
and at least one shoot called a pseudostem forming the trunk of the fruiting, leafy,
part of the plant.
15 years or more for the rhizome, 1-3 years for each pseudostem, depending
Evergreen in regions without freezes.
6-25' high, often 12-16' high. In the desert, most bananas are 4-5' shorter
than those grown in the tropics because of lower rainfall and lower humidity.
A large rhizome, sometimes mistakenly called a corm, forms the base of the plant.
The rhizome produces roots growing from multiple nodes 12-18" deep and 10' horizontally.
It also produces many shoots that become pseudostems.
The pseudostem, which functions as the trunk of the banana plant, is a cylinder of
tightly bound leaf stalks (petioles) that arise directly from the underground rhizome.
A pseudostem may be composed of four to several dozen leaves depending on the cultivar and
In the second part of the pseudostem's life, the rhizome sends a flowering, true stem
upward that pushes its way through the center of the pseudostem. As it does so, it can weaken
the pseudostem, causing it to droop, especially as fruit on the true stem become larger.
Dwarf cultivars are less affected by drooping.
When the main pseudostem of a banana plant dies after fruiting, the next oldest shoot
grows to replace it. With most banana cultivars, many pseudostems will grow at the same time
and form a colony covering a small area. Having a large colony produces better growing
environment for the plant, however less energy is available for fruiting. If fruit is the
primary purpose, only one pseudostem should be allowed to grow.
Normal shoots have narrow leaves and are called blade shoots. These develop normal leaves
when they reach about 3' tall. Shoots with wide leaves, known as water shoots, produce weak
plants and should be discarded.
Smooth, waxy, dark green, sometimes variegated with red, white or purple/maroon
splotches, up to 2' wide by 9' long. The midrib may be green or red. Often the front and back
of the leaf are different colors. New leaves may change color as they age. Leaves emerge
tightly curled, arranged in a spiral pattern around the top of the pseudostem. As the visible,
above-ground pseudostem grows higher, it unfurls about one leaf per week.
The true stem in the center of the pseudostem produces separate clusters of male
and female flowers at its tip, with the male flower cluster at the end, and the female flower
clusters further back.
For most banana species, the pseudostem must survive more than one year in order
to flower. For this reason, all edible banana plants, in freeze-prone regions, must have their
pseudostem protected during winter to produce flowers the following season. Bananas have no
flowering season and the time to flower varies by cultivar and growing conditions.
Most edible cultivars produce fruit without pollination.
Years before fruiting:
Most pseudostems produce flowers and fruit in their second year.
Long, thin to thick skinned. The seeds are tiny and sterile in edible
bananas. The fruit develop in groups called "hands". Five to 20 hands form a bunch.
Months for fruit to ripen:
Bananas must mature on the stem before ripening. Plumping and
rounding of the fruit indicates maturity at which point the fruit can be harvested.
Color change indicates ripening which can be done on or off the stem. For some cultivars,
bananas that ripen on the plant have a superior taste. Depending on the cultivar, maturity
can take anywhere from 6 weeks to 11 months. Immature fruit does not mature or ripen properly
off the plant.
Storage after harvest:
Place bananas in a fruit bowl to ripen at room temperature. Place
the bowl in the sun to ripen even faster. Never store bananas in the refrigerator; below
47°F the fruit will decay from the inside and turn black.
Edible Cultivars of Note
Bananas are best categorized by their genome. Musa acuminata varieties are genome AA,
meaning they have two chromosome sets of type A, one from each parent. Musa balbisiana varieties
are genome BB. Hybrids will have at least one chromosome set from both A and B. Some varieties are
polyploidal, meaning they have duplicate chromosome sets resulting in a genome with three or
four sets. The cultivars below are identified by their genome group in parenthesis.
'Blue Java': Ice Cream Banana (ABB)
Grows 12-20' tall depending on environment. USDA 9-10. It has silver-green leaves and
is more wind-hardy (a strong, wide root system) than most, but may need propping up when
'Blue Java' blooms about 15 to 24 months after planting and can be harvested five months
after that. Fruit hands should be covered to protect them from the sun in high temperatures.
The banana fruit is silvery-blue, ripening to pale yellow. Some believe this is the best
tasting, cold-hardy banana, with a fragrant, sweet vanilla, ice cream flavor. Its
drawbacks are that it takes a long time to mature and ripen and does not produce a large
quantity of fruit.
'Dwarf Orinoco' / 'Burro' (ABB)
Grows 6-8' tall. USDA 8-10. Very hardy, easy to grow, shade tolerant. Soft
medium-sized fruit with a tough central core and orange flesh. It is usually harvested
when green and used as a cooking banana. It can be eaten raw when very ripe.
When green, it is said to have lime and apple notes in its flavor and when fully ripe
has faint lemon undertones. 'California Gold' is a cold-hardy version (USDA 7-10).
'Dwarf Cavendish' / 'Grande Naine' (AAA)
Grows 6-8' tall. USDA 9-11. The standard commercial bananas for supermarkets.
'Dwarf Gros Michel' (AAA)
The original commercial banana, now an heirloom, discontinued because of tropical
diseases. Grows 5' tall in a large container. USDA 9-10. Short, wide green leaves. A better
flavor than the Cavendish banana.
'Dwarf Red' (AAA)
Grows 6-8' tall. USDA 10-11. The fruit turns "sunset" colors when ripening from dark
burgundy to orange, yellow-green and muted colors in between. It has aromatic, peachy tasting,
orange-colored flesh. A strong, vigorous plant with red pseudostems. Red bananas are less
cold hardy and take longer to mature and ripen. Can take 18-28 months to produce fruit.
The skin will be almost black before it is ripe. 'Dwarf Green'
is a green foliage version.
'Dwarf Giant Banana (Enano Gigante)' (AAAA)
Grows 6-10' tall. USDA 10-11. Bananas are 4-5” long with excellent sweet taste.
A variation of 'Golden Beauty'. The rhizome is hardy to 30°F. This plant has a strong
need for consistent watering.
'Dwarf Brazilian' (Dwarf Hawaiian Apple) (AB)
Grows 6-12' tall. USDA 8b-11. Hardy and easy to grow. Fruit is 4-5” long, very sweet,
Grows 6-8' tall. USDA 8b-11. Tolerates poor, dry soil [pH 6.1-7.8 (Slightly acidic to
slightly alkaline)] and withstands neglect better than most varieties.
Very wind hardy. Has leaves up to 3' wide. Produces medium-sized fruit
with very sweet flavor. Its biggest disadvantage is that it “chokes” more than most varieties:
the flowers and fruit will start growing in the pseudostem before the true stem exits the
top. Choking is thought to be caused by stress such as cold weather, temperature fluctuation,
or removing shoots close to flowering.
Grows 6-8' tall. USDA 9-11. A very disease resistant plant with high wind resistance.
Time from planting to harvest is 13-15 months. Reliably produces 55-80 pounds of fruit
with a sweet, tart, apple flavor.
Grows 10-12' tall. USDA 9b-11. A cultivar bred for home gardens to be tolerant of
poor, dry soil and wind. Very disease resistant. This is a green cooking banana that can
also be eaten when very ripe. Fruit ripen quickly after harvest, so should they be picked
one hand at a time and the rest left on the stem. Never harvest the entire stem at once.
Produces 30-150 pounds of bananas yearly.
Attracts birds, bats, insects and lizards.
Toxic / Danger:
No. Watery banana sap can stain clothes.
Southeastern Asia. Cultivated for at least 7000 years.