Red Banana Tree Care: Growing Musa Acuminata

Musa acuminata (MEW-suh ah-kew-min-AY-tuh) is a member of the family Musaceae [banana tree] and goes by the common name “red banana tree.” This is a little misleading, however, as the plant is actually an evergreen perennial and not a tree.

The scientific name means “banana that tapers to a long point”, a description that fits both the fruit and inflorescence.

Fruit of the Red banana tree

Another point of confusion is the way this plant’s numerous subspecies and cultivars crossed with Musa balbisiana have led to several naming conventions and classifications.

As a publication by the Italian botanist Luigi Aloysius Colla was the first to identify the species, it’s his naming convention that’s considered the precedent by the ICBN (International Code of Botanical Nomenclature).

The use of common names also gets confusing, with monikers such as “dwarf banana plant” and “wild banana” being used to describe a wide range of cultivars in addition to the main plant.

Unlike many plans that might grace your garden, the red banana tree has been on a human-led expansion throughout the world for millennia.

Evidence suggests the plant originated from Southeast Asia in or near the Philippines and was introduced to the Pacific Isles as far back as 4,000 years ago.

About a thousand years later, the plant appears to have traveled from Indonesia to Africa via Madagascar.

Not only is the red banana tree attractive, but its early hybridization with M. balbisiana is believed to be the source of all edible banana cultivars today 

Musa Acuminata Care

Size & Growth

This fast-growing giant herb grows from a rhizome, with a false trunk 10’ to 12’ feet tall made of leaf sheaths emerging from partial or completely buried corms. Black or brown spots adorn this otherwise green pseudostem 

At the top of the false trunk is a rosette of 10 to 12 leaves. The leaves range from elliptic to oblong and measure 10’ to 11.5’ feet long and 26” inches wide.

Flowering and Fragrance

The red banana tree produces an upward-growing spike with an inflorescence of white or yellow-white flowers in a mix of both male and female buds.

The male flowers develop between leathery purple-red bracts towards the top of the inflorescence. Meanwhile, the female flowers remain near the base.

Fertilized flowers take approximately four months to develop into fruit, and maturation begins at the base and works its way up the inflorescence.

Each of the 50 to 150 finger-shaped berries grows to a length reflecting how many seeds it contains (generally between 15 and 62 seeds).

As with other banana trees, the fruits group into clusters known as hands, comprising of 10 to 20 fruits per hand.

Light & Temperature

Red banana trees require full sun to light shade and a nice tropical to subtropical environment. They will grow well in USDA hardiness zones 10-12. The plant should overwinter indoors for optimum health.

Be advised, all banana plants require warmth to stay healthy. Cooler temperatures may impede or deform the fruit. Temperatures below 50° degrees Fahrenheit may severely harm or even kill the plant.

Watering and Feeding

Being a tropical plant, these dwarf bananas prefer moist soil and fare best in higher humidity.

Soil & Transplanting

M. acuminata prefers a loose, well-drained soil containing plenty of magnesium and potassium. It prefers a pH of 6 to 7.5, but will tolerate a range between 4 and 8.4.

Grooming And Maintenance

There’s very little maintenance involved unless you want to continue producing fruit. To keep the plant fertile, cut the trunk at ground level after harvest. The rhizome will not only survive but may continue to grow for several years.

Approximately every six months, new suckers or shoots will sprout from the rhizome. Weaker limbs may be pruned, allowing stronger limbs to become fruit-producing plants.

Watering and Feeding

Being a tropical plant, these dwarf bananas prefer moist soil and fare best in higher humidity. For optimal health, ensure the plant is well irrigated and has a regular, moderate to heavy supply of water.

However, the soil should be well-drained to prevent the risk of root rot.

Fertilize occasionally with a potassium-rich tropical plant food. Learn more about Banana Fertilizer.

How To Propagate Red Banana Tree

Due to the flower structure, this plant doesn’t self-pollinate easily, relying heavily upon various insects and animals. You can sow mature seeds in a sub-stratum of 50% percent sand, which germinate in two to three weeks and have a shelf life of up to two years.

It’s best to keep the seedlings potted for three years before transferring outdoors.

The edible variants are more commonly cultivated through sucker division in late spring. Avoid disturbing the main plant when excavating suckers and choose ones with roots. These should be kept in light shade in a greenhouse until well-established.

Red Banana Pests and Diseases

This plant, as with most cultivated bananas, has been heavily cloned over the centuries. This lack of genetic diversity makes bananas an easy victim for a wide range of infections and infestations.

A novel strain or pest may decimate entire species due to the resulting generic similarities all bananas share.

Any disease or fungus which targets bananas will affect M. acuminata. It is susceptible to aphids, fruit flies, mealybugs, nematodes. Red palm mite, snails, and a range of rot types.

On the other end of the spectrum, the plant attracts a wide range of insects and animals that aid in seed dispersal. Some of these are more attractive than others. Common US-based species include bees, birds, frugivorous bats, mice, and rats.

Suggested Musa Acuminata Uses

Depending on the cultivar you choose, the fruit may or may not be edible. Wild species are diploid (two sets of chromosomes) and are inedible due to the number of seeds.

Domesticated cultivars are triploid (three sets of chromosomes) and are edible. The latter is commonly referred to as Dwarf Cavendish bananas.

The male flowers are also edible and may be consumed raw or roasted. Its stem core may be eaten similarly to bamboo shoots. Finally, young shoots are often chopped up and used in sauces.

Its leaves serve as packing material, food wrapping, and as a pit lining when making pork candy. The bark may be used for paper making. Fibers from the shoots and leaves are silky and used to make fine rugs and clothing.

Red banana is also very useful for medicinal purposes. While some of these uses are folk remedies, others have some scientific backing.

Every part of the plant has at least one use, covering ailments such as burns, cough and chest conditions, diabetes diarrhea, digestive disorders, dysentery, epilepsy, hemorrhoids,  insect bites, leprosy, swelling, and ulcers.

If all of these practical uses weren’t enough, red banana’s shape, foliage, and pollinator-attracting abilities make it a popular ornamental plant for sheltered, sunny gardens.

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