Banana Shrub Growing Profile

Michelia figo

starr-environmental/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The banana shrub (Michelia figo or Magnolia figo) is an evergreen shrub that is not actually related to banana trees, which are part of the Musaceae family. It features creamy flowers that give off the scent of bananas.

Latin Name

While many still use Michelia figo as the scientific name for this shrub, it has been placed by some botanistsĀ in with the magnolias and the name changed to Magnolia figo.

You may also see it written as Michelia fuscata. It is considered to be part of the Magnoliaceae family. In addition to the magnolias, you may also be familiar with the tulip tree, another relative.

Common Names

This is known as the banana shrub since the blossoms smell quite like the fruit of that name. You might also see it as port wine magnolia or banana magnolia.

Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones

The banana shrub can be grown in Zones 7-10. It is native to China.

Size

At maturity, Michelia figo will be 6-20' tall and 6-15' wide.

Exposure

Choose a site where your shrub will be able to enjoy full sun to part shade. When they are planted in shade, they tend to become more open and spreading than those in full sun.

Foliage/Flowers/Fruit

The glossy green leaves of Michelia figo are oblong and 3-5" long. They will persist throughout the year.

The creamy yellow blossoms are up to 1 1/2" across. They have a purple margin and are similar to those of other magnolias.

They give off a banana scent that inspires the common name.

Small red follicule fruit form after the flowers are pollinated.

Design Tips

Two varieties that are available are 'Port Wine' and 'Stubbs Purple'. Both have more coloring than the standard species. 'Port Wine' is also on the smaller side.

The banana shrub can be formed into an informal hedge for privacy or creating borders.

For the latter, they work well mixed with other plants.

This plant will be tolerant of drought once the roots have had a chance to properly establish themselves deeper in the ground.

Growing Tips

The best site for Michelia figo is one that offers acidic soil with good drainage.

You can propagate this species by taking cuttings.

Maintenance/Pruning

The banana shrub takes well to pruning and can be formed into hedges and standards.

Pests

Scales will suck sap from the tree. Use horticultural oil when the insects are young (early spring) and susceptible. Do not use on hot days as the oil can burn the leaves.

Diseases

  • Black sooty mold can be present if the tree is infested with scales. These produce a sugary sticky substance called honeydew that encourages the mold to form. Controlling any scale problems will help prevent and control this fungus.
  • Mushroom rot is a sign of a serious problem and you will need to take out your shrub if this develops. Help prevent it by keeping the plant in good health.