This evergreen shrub is like a classic Southern lady—both sweet and tough. Its flowers are incredibly fragrant, and the plant itself is easy to take care of. Gardeners can think of it as a miniature Southern magnolia whose flowers smell like bananas instead of lemons.
Banana shrub (Michelia figo) received its common name because its flowers smell like ripe bananas. It blooms heavily in the spring with cream-colored, one-inch flowers that look like tiny magnolia blossoms edged with crimson. Blooming will continue sporadically throughout the summer. The cultivar ‘Port Wine’ has rose to maroon flowers.
The plant is evergreen and has glossy, deep green leaves that are three inches long, making it a great backdrop for other garden plants. The buds and immature leaves often have a covering of brown fuzz that the leaves lose as they mature.
Banana shrub can be planted near an entryway or window so that its fragrance can be enjoyed, but it can also be incorporated in a mixed shrub border or used as a hedge. The plants tend to be slow growing with a rounded, open habit. Banana shrub can grow ten to fifteen feet tall if left unpruned, but the plant takes pruning well and can be maintained at a shorter height with a denser form. It can even be trained as an espalier.
Once established, banana shrub is quite drought tolerant and can work in various light conditions, making it a versatile plant for a number of Florida landscapes. Banana shrub is a member of the magnolia family.
Banana shrub will grow in either sun or light shade. Plants grown in the sun will have a shorter, tighter form and the leaves will be more yellowish green. It prefers a slightly acidic, well-drained sandy soil that has been enriched with organic material.
Like other shrubs, banana shrub should be planted so that the soil line of the plant is slightly higher than the surrounding soil level. Plants should be watered regularly after planting but will become drought tolerant after establishment. Banana shrub is relatively problem free, though the leaves are susceptible to false oleander scale. Treat any scale infestations with a horticultural oil spray, reapplying if necessary.
This plant may be difficult to find in some areas, so gardeners may need to call around to different nurseries. It’s also helpful to keep in mind that nursery specimens may sometimes look sparse but will often fill in once planted.