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.
While many still use Michelia figo as the scientific name for this shrub, it has been placed by some botanists 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.
This is known as the banana shrub since the blossoms smell quite like the fruit of that name. You might also see it labeled as port wine magnolia or banana magnolia.
The banana shrub can be grown in Zones 7-10. It is native to China. At maturity, Michelia figo will be 6 to 20 feet tall and 6 to 15 feet wide.
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, and Fruit
The glossy green leaves of Michelia figo are oblong and 3 to 5 inches long. They will persist throughout the year.
The creamy yellow blossoms are up to 1 1/2 inch 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 follicular fruit form after the flowers are pollinated.
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. The best site for Michelia figo is one that offers acidic soil with good drainage. You can propagate this species by taking cuttings.
Pests and Diseases
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.
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.