Are you looking for a showy plant to add to your tropical-themed garden? Maybe even an indoor tree to keep summer going all year long? Then look no further than the Darjeeling banana. Like other banana species grown as ornamental plants, Musa sikkimensis is not truly a tree, but rather a very fast-growing herbaceous perennial that dies back after fruiting to sprout again from the base structure—a process that can take as much as three years.
The fruit, while edible, is not very flavorful, and Darjeeling banana is generally grown instead for the unique foliage, which exhibits a striking cinnamon-red color on the leaf undersides, with leaf tops that sport eye-catching red striped patterns.
In zones where it is hardy, this banana can be planted at any time. This fast-growing plant may put on as much as 9 feet in its first growing season and can reach 12 to 15 feet in three years or so, when it flowers and produces fruit.
|Botanical Name||Musa sikkimensi|
|Common Name||Darjeeling banana|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial, often grown as a houseplant|
|Mature Size||12–15 feet tall|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun to part shade|
|Soil pH||Slightly acidic to neutral|
|Flower Color||Deep red or purple|
|Hardiness Zones||5–9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Asia (Bhutan, India)|
Darjeeling Banana Tree Care
Darjeeling banana trees will lend a tropical atmosphere to almost any garden. In areas where it is hardy, it is often planted near swimming pools or around patios. As an indoor plant, it is quite large, appropriate for large sunrooms or great rooms.
In the more northern part of the hardiness range, give your banana tree a nice sunny spot. In warmer climates, these trees appreciate some afternoon shade. Be sure to give your banana tree plenty of water and well-draining soil. This is important for both outdoor and indoor banana plants.
Maintenance is easy—you only need to trim away fading leaves and blooms. The natural cycle of a banana plant is to die back once the plant has fruited. But it will then quickly resprout from the base, adding at least 6 feet of height in its first year. The overall cycle, initial sprouting to die-back after fruiting, can take two to three years for a garden plant in warm zones or for an indoor plant.
In the coldest part of the hardiness range, outdoor plants may die back fully to ground level each year, sprouting again each spring to quickly grow to a large size.
While many banana species are tropical lowland plants that require lots of direct sun, the Darjeeling banana is found in the high forests of the Himalayan foothills, and as such it does well with a fair amount of shade, especially in the warmer part of its hardiness range. In colder climates, give it as much sun as possible.
To be able to produce its large flowers and fruit, the Darjeeling banana tree loves rich, nutrient-packed soil. Adding compost or manure will help give this plant the nutrients it needs. This addition will also help the soil drain, which is very important. Banana trees require plenty of water, but if the soil doesn’t drain well, root rot becomes a real problem.
The Darjeeling banana tree's tropical nature is revealed by its need for moisture—and lots of it. Be sure to keep it well watered, particularly when it is hot and sunny. Indoor banana trees also appreciate a consistent watering schedule.
As the growing season ends and temperatures begin to fall, start tapering off watering to allow the tree to go dormant.
Temperature and Humidity
The Darjeeling banana tree is quite hardy and can withstand mildly freezing winters while still coming back strong and healthy the next year. It's considered hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9.
These trees appreciate significant amounts of humidity but beware of excess moisture as the temperatures start to drop. Too much moisture in the winter can be detrimental to the health of this banana species.
Banana trees aren’t picky when it comes to fertilizer, so a slow-release, well-balanced fertilizer will do. However, banana trees don’t do well with a lot of salt, so steer away from cheaper fertilizers that may contain salts in large amounts. Fertilize monthly during the growing season to help encourage growth.
Darjeeling banana is a pure (wild) species without any named cultivars. There are several other banana species with similar cultural needs.
- Japanese banana (Musa bajoo) is hardy to zone 5 and grows to about 14 feet. Like Darjeeling, it makes a good houseplant if you have plenty of space.
- Musa acuminata 'Dwarf Cavendish' is a true dwarf banana, growing to only about 6 feet tall, making it a great choice for indoor growing.
- Musa 'Orinoco' is is one of the smaller bananas grown for edible fruit. It grows to about 16 feet and is hardy in zones 7 to 10.
Propagating Darjeeling Banana Trees
Darjeeling banana trees are easy to propagate. These trees create new plants by producing pups— new young plants—near the base as the old growth dies away after the plant fruits. Simply separate these from the mother plant and you’ve created another banana tree.
Examine the parent plant to find a pup that has three or four leaves, then use a sharp spade or shears to remove the pup. (For potted banana trees, it may be easier to remove the plant from its pot before separating pups.) The pup you’re transplanting should have attached roots, along with the root section.
Plant the pup in a separate container with a rich, well-draining potting mix. Water thoroughly.
How to Grow Darjeeling Bananas From Seed
Darjeeling banana is a pure wild species, so its fruit produces much larger seeds than what is found in the store bananas produced by hybrid plants. Thus, it is easier to propagate these plants by seed, and the resulting offspring will "come true" and resemble the parent plant. It is a slow process, however, and not always successful, so if quick propagation is your goal, harvesting pups from the adult plant is a better method. But seed propagation can be an interesting challenge.
When your banana matures and produces fruit, harvest the seeds out of the fully ripe bananas, clean them, then soak the seeds in water for two days to soften the shells. Sow the seeds 1/4 inch deep in containers or trays filled with rich potting mix blended with compost. Water them well and keep moist until they sprout, which can take two to three weeks. Germination will be most successful if you provide warm temperatures (above 75 degrees Fahrenheit) during the day, then allow them to cool to no lower than 60 degrees at night.
The seedlings can be transplanted into large pots once they begin to develop true leaves, usually several weeks after sprouting.
In colder climates, the banana plant will die back to the ground, then resprout in the spring. To successfully overwinter them, cover the root area with a thick layer of mulch or straw, and possibly a tarp. These will help keep the cold and moisture of winter away from your banana tree. Remove the mulch promptly in the spring to prevent the roots from rotting.
In warmer climates, the plants will remain evergreen through the winter, but will naturally shift into a more dormant mode. Reduce watering and feeding during the winter months.
Remember that banana plants naturally die away once they have fruited, a process that can take as much as three years. The plant will resprout with new growth from the base at this time.
Potting and Repotting
Like Japanese banana, the Darjeeling banana plant is more cold-hardy than the hybrid bananas that produce the fruit sold in store. It is considered hardy to zone 5, where it can survive outdoors even through occasional snowfalls. More often, though, it is grown as a container plant that either remains indoor year-round or is moved indoors from the patio when the weather turns cold.
The Darjeeling banana tree does quite well when grown in containers and can be kept as a large houseplant. One advantage to keeping your tree in a container is its transportability. If you live in an area with cold winters, you can place your banana tree outside in the summers and simply move them indoors during the winter months.
Choosing a rather large pot will give your tree plenty of room to grow. This banana tree likes loose roots, which promotes healthy growth. If your tree is pot-bound its growth will slow. Anywhere from a 12 to 18 inches round pot will do, depending on the size of your plant. It's best to start with a large pot rather than to repot the plant as it grows larger.
Darjeeling bananas generally take about three years to reach fruiting maturity, at which time the old growth will die back and you can reuse the pot to grow a new pup offshoot.
Common Pests & Diseases
Darjeeling bananas are somewhat more resistant to diseases and pests than are other banana species, but they are not immune to problems.
On bananas planted in the garden, grasshoppers, borers, and root nematodes may be a problem. These can be treated with spray pesticides. Bananas can also be susceptible to anthracnose, wilt, and mosaic virus. Severe disease may require you to destroy the entire plant.
On indoor plants, be on alert for aphids, mites, mealybugs, and scale, which can be treated with horticultural oil.