Native to southeastern Asia, bananas are some of the world’s largest herbs. Musa acuminata can grow to 6 meters (20 feet) without any secondary growth (ex. wood, bark, xylem, phloem). The Blood Banana (a hybrid/cultivar) is shorter, typically to only 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall, making it easier to manage in zones where it cannot survive winter. These bananas are also especially ornamental with burgundy/maroon splotched foliage and a uniquely red trunk.
Musa acuminata ssp. zebrina (Blood Banana, Red Banana Tree, Rojo) [incorrectly Musa sumatrana, M. zebrina, M. rojo]
Deciduous: no, tropical (may die back to the base in winter and return in summer in a VERY selective range)
Hardiness Zones: 9-12 (potentially 8a with sufficient mulching/care)
Height: to 1.8 meters (6 feet) tall (dwarf for a Musa species)
Diameter: typically up to 1.8 meters (6 feet) wide
Growth Rate: fast
Age: perennial, may flower (and have the main “trunk” die off) in 2 or 3 years of year-round, high-quality growth and conditions
Root System: fibrous, clumps in a somewhat hemispherical fashion
Tolerates: Strong winds commonly tear the large, delicate foliage.
Problems (major): aphids, mealybugs, scales, root rot in wet soil, anthracnose, wilt, mosaic virus
Problems (minor): spider mites, large space requirement
Poisonous: potentially edible fruits, unknown toxicity
Soil requirements: demands nutrient-rich, well-drained soils with a pH 5.6-7.5, fertilizer greatly appreciated
Air requirements: unknown air pollution tolerance
Watering requirement: Moderate (depending on light conditions and size), do not let the soil dry.
Sun requirement: grows best in full sun with some light shade during summer
Leaf shape: oblong, paddle-shaped, long, splattered with maroon
Leaf size: to 1 meter (3 feet) long by 25 centimeters (10 inches) wide
Flower structure: a red cyme, terminal on long flowering stalk, folds back to reveal yellow/red/pink flowers (and eventually fruits)
Flowering frequency: Bananas are monocarpic (they flower once and then die. New suckers/offsets are produced during flowering and eventually take over when the mature parent plan dies off.
Subterranean storage organ: corm
Bananas do not have true stems but have pseudostems (remains from previous foliage). The trunk on ssp. zebrina is a vivid burgundy/ red color. The leaves are splotched a scarlet or burgundy color. Bananas may be diploid, triploid, or tetraploid. Musa acuminata zebrina is diploid (2n = 44, AA). These reproduce asexually via “suckering”, sending out new clones off of the base corm.
Musa acuminata ssp. zebrina is primarily grown for its ornamental value, as it uncommonly produces fruit. Other bananas, such as M. acuminata, are better fit for edible fruit production and sale.
All of the images provided were taken by me at Southern Illinois University Carbondale Life Science/Plant Biology Greenhouse. They may be used for educational/informational purposes only, provided that this article/online journal is appropriately cited first.