How to Grow and Care for Snow Banana Trees

An Impressive and Surprisingly Hardy Tropical Ornamental Species

Leaves of the Snow Banana Tree (Ensete glaucum)

Photo by David J. Stang / Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

 

The snow banana tree (Ensete glaucum) isn't grown for fruit, as the name would suggest, but rather as an interesting, bold and ornamental garden addition. It has a distinctive, bulging blue-green trunk and eye-catching, large, thick, waxy, and decorative leaves.

When it's in flower, the showy large green inflorescences (flower heads), which can grow to be up to a foot wide, are a delight. Some people even describe them as looking like elephant trunks!

Despite being a tropical species related to the Banana, given the right conditions, it's surprisingly hardy, easy to look after, and it grows rapidly. It isn't quite as tough or as readily available, however, as one of its similar relatives—the Abyssinian banana (Ensete ventricosum).

With the word "snow" in the name, you might assume that this species will survive outside in snowy conditions. It isn't that cold-hardy, though, and, instead, it relates to the color of its flowers.

If it's over-wintered in a greenhouse or other suitably frost-free indoor space, however, this species can still be kept as a perennial. It can even be kept outdoors over the winter if temperatures are mild enough and it has suitable protection.

The fruit borne from the snow banana isn't cultivated for use in North America. In its native regions in Asia, however, the high-in-iron pulp is consumed by indigenous tribes and is thought to have beneficial medicinal value.

Botanical Name Ensete glaucum
Common Name Snow banana
Plant Type Tropical perennial
Mature Size Up to 15 feet tall
Sun Exposure Full Sun / partial shade
Soil Type Prefers a fertile and well-drained variety
Soil pH Tolerates a variety
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color Green / white
Hardiness Zones 8 to 11
Native Area Asia

How to Grow Snow Banana Trees

Given the right conditions and temperatures, snow banana trees are very fast-growing. They like rich and moist soils and plenty of warmth, sunlight and regular feeding.

Unless you experience continual warmth into the winter, they'll need to be brought inside when the colder weather arrives. Expect their growth to slow significantly, or stop altogether during this period.

Light

Snow banana trees appreciate plenty of sunlight. If this is lacking, the color of the large leaves can be impacted. During the warmer summer months, they'll appreciate being outside to maximize the amount of natural light they receive.

Soil

Your snow banana tree will need a well-drained soil or potting mix. Overly wet conditions aren't good for this plant, but they do like to be kept moist.

Water

Snow banana trees appreciate regular watering. They benefit from consistently moist, but not waterlogged, soil, and you should take care not to let them dry out for prolonged periods before rewatering.

Temperature and Humidity

Snow banana trees might be hardier than some other Ensete species, but they still prefer frost-free, dry, and sheltered conditions during the winter. They do best in warm, humid, tropical-type climates.

Fertilizer

These trees are heavy feeders. Snow bananas grow fast, and it takes a lot of energy to keep their large trunk, leaves, and flowers healthy. Regular fertilization during the spring and summer will help to ensure they put on their best display.

Propagating Snow Banana Trees

Ensete species like the snow banana tree are known for being much more difficult to propagate than their banana (Musa) relatives. Trying to do it from cuttings or division can be exceptionally tricky.

Growing From Seeds

Snow banana trees are best grown from seeds. They should be soaked in warm water for around 48 hours. If you don't have a propagator, you can place them on top of a warm radiator, or just make sure you regularly change or top up the water.

Sown seeds benefit from being sealed inside a bag or placed in a consistently damp paper towel to keep the humidity high. They appreciate daytime temperatures above 77 degrees Fahrenheit and positioning them on a well-lit windowsill can be a good idea.

The seeds can take at least three months to germinate and should be well spaced.

Overwintering

There have been reports of this species surviving the winter months outside in zone 7b, providing they have appropriate protection.

To ensure success, heavy mulching and wrapping of the plant leaves and body would be required.

If you're expecting frosts, if it's possible to bring your Snow Banana Tree into an appropriate indoor space, this would ensure a better chance of survival.