Magnolia figo

How To Grow and Care for The Banana Shrub (Magnolia figo)

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Is there anything better than the sweet smell of flowers on a warm summer’s day? The banana shrub looks nothing like the regular banana tree but instead takes its name from the fruity fragranced flowers it produces. What a Treat! Read on to learn more about this beautiful flowering shrub.

What Is A Banana Shrub?

The banana shrub, also commonly known as the port wine magnolia, is an ornamental evergreen shrub or small tree of the Magnoliaceae family. Scientifically, this plant is classified as Magnolia figo but was previously known as Michelia figo, a name which some nurseries and resources may still use. These plants are thought to be of garden origin and have a long history of planting in China. (1)

These plants have an upright growth form and are usually multi-stemmed but can be trained as a small, single-stemmed tree with careful pruning. Often said to be a shrub of around 6ft (1.8m) in height, these plants can reach up to about 20ft (6m) in height with a spread of up to 13ft (4m) if given enough time and good growing conditions.

Banana shrubs have lovely dark green leaves which are covered in fine hairs on their lower surfaces. The alternately arranged leaves have entire (smooth) margins and are 2-4 inches (5-10cm) long and 1-2inches (2.5-5cm) wide.

Young twigs and buds are also densely covered in fine woolly hairs, producing a brownish or yellowish coloration. Mature bark takes on a gray-brown color.

Magnolia figo
Michelia figo ‘Purple Queen’ photo by KENPEI – KENPEI’s photo, CC BY-SA 3.0

Banana Shrub Flowers

The flowers of this plant are definitely its most attractive feature. Measuring ½ to 1 inch (1.3-2.5cm) across, these cream-yellow blooms have six maroon edged tepals.

The ‘Port Wine’ cultivar has maroon to rose-colored flowers, while ‘Purple Queen’ has purple flowers.

In April through July, you can expect the appearance of these showy and fragrant blooms. The attractive flowers are delicate, however, dropping their tepals easily.

The fragrance of the flowers is best compared with banana or fruit candy and can be smelled from quite a distance away. Flowers give way to relatively inconspicuous, small red fruits that are around half an inch (13mm) across or less. 

How To Grow A Banana Shrub

It is best to grow your banana shrubs from semi-ripe cuttings as the seed tends to have a low germination potential.

Banana shrubs can be grown in a variety of soil types, including quite heavy, clay substrates. A well-drained, slightly acidic to neutral pH soil with a good amount of organic material mixed in is definitely favored, however.

Keep the soil around this plant’s roots moist, especially when young or recently planted, in which case the plant should be watered daily. Once established, these plants require less frequent watering but are not highly drought-resistant and should be watered when necessary, especially in particularly hot and dry periods.

These shrubs do best when grown in USDA zones 8-10, and UK zone 9. Banana shrubs have been successfully grown in USDA zone 7 although they require more care and will take some cold damage during the winter months. As a rule, the species does not enjoy frost and should be protected from cold winter winds or grown in sheltered locations.

Grow this plant in full sun to semi-shade areas. Bear in mind, however, that plants grown in full sun will take on a denser and more compact growth form than those grown in shade, which tend to grow taller. (2)

These plants generally grow at a slow to moderate rate, so have patience, it will be worth the wait. If you need plant mass in a hurry for a hedge or screen, consider other options.

Care and Maintenance

These plants tolerate pruning well and this is best done in the springtime. Fortunately, the flowers of the banana bush do not develop on new growth and therefore the plant can be pruned without diminishing its flowering potential.

Since these plants enjoy a fairly rich growing medium, fertilizing when necessary will definitely improve their health and growth rate. Take note, however, that it generally isn’t wise to feed plants too late in the growing season, and therefore spring is the ideal time of year to do it.

Banana shrubs are relatively pest and disease resistant. Some growers have reported infestations of a pest known as false oleander scale (Pseudaulacaspis cockerelli). Affected plants are identified by yellowing spots on the upper leaf surfaces, which may result in the death of leaves. The use of horticultural oils is recommended for the treatment of this condition. (3)

Uses

These plants make great screens, hedges, and specimen plants that are also suitable for large containers. The banana bush plant can quite easily be convinced to become banana shrub-trees by careful pruning to establish a single stem.

Perhaps this plant’s finest feature is its fragrant blossoms, which make it an ideal choice for perfume gardens. Take care not to over-plant this species. Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and an overpowering and overwhelming banana smell might not be the best thing to have outside your bedroom window for a few weeks of the year!

FAQs

Conclusion

The banana shrub has it all. Provided you live in a warm enough climate, and aren’t in too much of a hurry to see this slow grower gain mass, this is one plant anyone should consider for their next garden introduction.

If you love shrubs, check this list for more plants to grow!

References

Reference list

  1. ‘eFloras (2008). Published on the Internet http://www.efloras.org [accessed 1 February 2021]’ Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, MO & Harvard University Herbaria, Cambridge, MA.

(2) Gilman, E. F. Michelia Figo: Fact sheet. University of Florida

http://hort.ufl.edu/database/documents/pdf/shrub_fact_sheets/micfiga.pdf

(3) Fasulo, T. R. & Hamon, A. B. False Oleander Scale, Pseudaulacaspis cockerelli (Cooley) 

(Insecta: Hemiptera: Coccoidea: Diaspididae)

https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/IN/IN30600.pdf

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