The banana shrub (Michelia figo or Magnolia figo) is a broadleaf 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. The banana shrub is native to China and has dense, multi-stemmed growth and a moderate height that make it suitable for understory planting and for privacy hedges.
While many still use Michelia figo as the scientific name for this shrub, it has been placed by some botanists with the magnolias and had its 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.
In addition to banana shrub, Magnolia figo is also known as port wine magnolia, banana magnolia, Chinese tulip tree, and brown-stalked magnolia.
Preferred USDA Hardiness Zones
Banana shrubs can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10.
Size and Shape
The dense foliage growth and overall rounded form give the banana shrub a lush, tropical quality. It usually grows 6 to 10 feet tall with a similar spread.
Choose a site where your shrub will be able to enjoy full sun to part shade. Shrubs planted in shade tend to become more open and spreading than those in full sun. Heavy sun exposure can give the leaves a pale yellow cast.
Foliage, Flowers, and Fruit
The glossy green leaves of Michelia figo are oblong and 3 to 5 inches long. They persist throughout the year.
The banana-scented, creamy yellow blossoms are up to 1 1/2 inches across. They have a purple margin and are similar to those of other magnolias. Small red follicular fruit form after the flowers are pollinated.
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. Their relatively short stature and shade tolerance make them a good choice for understory planting. Two popular varieties—'Port Wine' and 'Stubbs Purple'—have more coloring than the standard species. 'Port Wine' is also on the smaller side.
If you're planting banana shrubs for their floral scent, locate them near a patio, walkway, house windows, or garden retreat to make the most of their fragrance.
This plant will be tolerant of drought once the roots have had a chance to properly establish deep in the ground. It prefers rich, fertile, well-drained loam that is evenly moist and slightly acidic.
You may see banana shrubs advertised as being hardy to zone 7, although many suppliers stop at zone 8. To prevent early blooms in colder regions, do not plant it in warm south-facing locations where it may get a false sense of spring, thus blooming early and exposing the new growth to cold.
You can propagate this species by taking cuttings.
Pests and 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 necessitates destroying the shrub. Help prevent it by keeping the plant in good health.