Musa acuminata 'Zebrina'
Common Name: blood banana 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Musaceae
Zone: 9 to 11
Height: 5.00 to 6.00 feet
Spread: 5.00 to 6.00 feet
Bloom Time: Seasonal bloomer
Bloom Description: Cream to yellow
Sun: Full sun
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Flower: Showy
Leaf: Evergreen
Fruit: Showy, Edible

Culture

Winter hardy to USDA Zones 10-11. In St. Louis, plants may be grown directly in the ground (if dug in fall), in containers or as houseplants (dwarf varieties especially). Best grown in organically rich, medium moisture, well-drained soil in full sun. Plants tolerate and often appreciate some part shade or light filtered sun in the heat of the day. Needs consistently moist soils that do not dry out. Fertilize regularly during growing season. Site plants in areas protected from strong winds which can severely damage the large leaves. For containers, use a well-drained potting soil mix. Keep container soils consistently moist but not wet. Outdoor plants must be overwintered indoors, either as houseplants or by forcing plants into dormancy. Options for overwintering include: (1) Bring container indoors in fall before first frost and place in a large sunny room for overwintering as a houseplant, with reduced water and fertilization; (2) If plant is too large to bring inside as a houseplant, cut foliage back to 6-8” in fall after first frost, and store container in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring. It is best to provide just a touch of moisture as needed in winter to prevent the soils from totally drying out; (3) If container is too heavy or too large to bring inside, remove plant from container in fall before first frost, wrap roots in plastic and store in a cool, dark, frost-free corner of the basement until spring. When using this option, foliage may be trimmed back or left on the plant and allowed to brown up in the normal course; (4) If growing plants directly in the ground, dig, wrap roots, trim back the leaves and store as in option #3 above.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Musa acuminata, called Cavendish banana, is a large, fast-growing, suckering, evergreen plant that typically grows to 12-20’ tall in the tropics. Many of the bananas sold in St. Louis grocery stores are from cultivars of this species or from hybrids in which this species is a parent. Gardeners in St. Louis primarily grow these plants not for their fruit but for their ornamental foliage that lends an exotic and tropical aura to the home and/or landscape. Plants produce huge paddle-shaped leaves that grow to 6-10’ long. Leaf sheathes overlap to form a trunk-like pseudostem (false stem). Cream to yellow flowers may appear in summer on mature plants to be followed by edible yellow bananas. Younger plants often will not flower and fruit until the 2nd or 3rd year. Container plants cut close to the ground in fall each year may never flower. After flowering and fruiting, the pseudostem dies, but the roots push out new shoots (suckers) which form new pseudostems.

Genus name honors Antonia Musa, Roman physician of the 1st century B.C.

Specific epithet means tapering into a long narrow point.

‘Zebrina’ (synonymous with Musa zebrina and Musa acuminata subsp. zebrina) is a dwarf cultivar that is commonly cultivated for both commercial fruit production and ornamental applications. It typically grows to 5-6’ tall and makes a much more manageable container plant or houseplant than the species. It is best noted for its large green leaves splashed with burgundy-red blotches and for its reddish trunk-like pseudostem.

Problems

No serious insect or disease problems. Watch for aphids, spider mites, mealybugs and scale on houseplants. Susceptible to anthracnose, wilt and mosiac virus.

Garden Uses

Whether grown outdoors in the landscape or indoors as a houseplant, bananas (even dwarf cultivars) need lots of space. They are classic tropical foliage plants, which, if they fruit, produce attractive bunches of yellow bananas. Effective when grown as a garden centerpiece or for tropical flair near water bodies.