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The Intriguing Fragrance of Banana Shrub

By Marie Harrison (can2growNovember 19, 2009
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When I first smelled a banana shrub (Magnolia figo) in bloom in a friendís garden, I began an immediate search for one to add to my garden. Sometimes we humans, as enthralled as we become with fragrant plants, forget that they do not produce scents just to please our sense of smell. Scent serves an important biological function for plants by attracting pollinating creatures that are necessary for the survival of the species.

Gardening picture

Do not be disturbed if you know this plant as Michelia figo, or even if you knew it as Magnolia fuscata. It has been renamed and is now goes by the scientific name of Magnolia figo.  The banana shrub is a member of the Magnoliaceae (Magnolia) family. Named because of its banana-like scent, it can be identified as a magnolia by the small, magnolia-like flowers that clothe the stems when the shrub is in bloom.

ImageIntroduced into this country in 1789, this Chinese native grows into a large shrub or small tree up to 20 feet tall. In spring and intermittently throughout the summer, creamy yellow flowers with maroon edges line up on the stems in perfect complement to the glossy, evergreen foliage. Flowers have six waxy petals and are about 1.5 inches wide. They are quick to shatter when touched, so it is best to simply enjoy the flowers while they are still attached to the limbs. The narrowly oval to slightly obovate leaves range from 1.5 to 4 inches long and 1 to 2 inches wide. Limbs are numerous, and the shrub makes a dense, solid form. Hardy from Zones 7-10, the banana shrub is a useful evergreen shrub or small tree in areas within its hardiness range.Image

Cultural Requirements

Banana shrub is probably at its best in partial shade. In full sun, leaves tend to be yellow-green, but in full shade the limbs grow more open and leggy. Best growth is in moist but well-drained, fertile, slightly acid soil. Although drought tolerant once established, it will get off to a good start if watered regularly during the first year or until a good root system is established. Before new growth begins in spring, sprinkle a complete, slow-release fertilizer lightly underneath the shrub and out to the drip line. Mulch well to maintain moisture, but do not allow the mulch to pile up against the stem.

Banana shrub is usually pest resistant, but scale insects can infest them. If white specks appear on the leaves of your plant, you can bet that the scale insects are paying your shrub a visit. Discourage them from setting up permanent housekeeping by spraying with horticultural oil. Alternatively, drench the root zone with a systemic product such as Bayer's AdvancedTM Tree & Shrub Insect Control Concentrate. As always, follow package directions carefully when applying any insecticide. Image

Banana shrub grows naturally into a rounded to oval shape. If desired, the lower limbs can be removed to make a small, multi-trunked tree. Propagation is by cuttings.

Cultivars and Varieties

‘Stubbs Purple' has flowers that are more purple than the species. ‘Port Wine' is more compact than the species and tops out at about 6-feet tall. Flowers have more maroon coloring. ‘Purple Queen' bears dark red-colored flowers, and the foliage is a bit darker colored than the species. Image

Magnolia figo var. skinneriana  (Skinner's banana shrub) is touted as a superior or improved banana shrub, more vigorous in growth and longer flowering than the old-fashioned banana shrub  It is very similar to the species except that it is larger in all its parts, growing up to about 30 feet tall. Three-inch flowers are usually pale cream, but are sometimes pink or maroon-tinted in the center.

Magnolia figo var. crassipes has flowers that vary in color from rose to dark red. It is hardy only to the lower reaches of Zone 8.

Several hybrids have been developed between M. figo and M.doltsopa. Most are known as Magnolia ×foggii. Cultivars of the hybrid forms include 'Allspice' and 'Jack Fogg'. These hybrids are more upright and pyramidal and are less hardy than the species.

Gardeners who live within the hardiness range of banana shrub and like fragrance in their gardens will surely want to add this shrub or one of its cultivars or varieties to their gardens. Some sources are listed on Dave's Garden PlantScout.

At a Glance

Scientific name: Magnolia figo syn. Michelia figo

Common name: Banana shrub

Family: Magnoliaceae (Magnolia)

Size: 10-20/6-15 feet tall/wide

Origin: Introduced from China in the late 1700s

Hardiness: Zones 7-10

Salt tolerance: Slight

Cultural preferences: Prefers rich, well-drained soil and partial shade

Drought tolerance: Tolerant after establishment 

 

 Grateful appreciation to xstemboatr for the image of 'Port Wine'. All other photographs are the author's.

 

 

 

 


  About Marie Harrison  
Marie HarrisonServing as a Master Flower Show Judge, a Floral Design Instructor, instructor of horticulture for National Garden Clubs, and a University of Florida Master Gardener immerses me in gardening/teaching activities. In addition to these activities, I contribute regularly to Florida Gardening magazine and other publications. I am author of four gardening books, all published by Pineapple Press, Sarasota, Florida. Read about them and visit me at www.mariesgardenanddesign.com.

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Discussion about this article:
SubjectTopic StarterRepliesViewsLast Post
Magnolia figa flowerchild67 1 6 Mar 14, 2013 4:29 PM
candied banana plant petset77 3 25 Mar 13, 2012 6:44 PM
Banana Shrub xstemboatr 0 20 Nov 23, 2009 9:02 PM
Banana Shrub Darlacooper 3 30 Nov 23, 2009 5:30 PM
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