All the Jungle Feels Grow Your Own Banana Plant

All about banana plants


The common name “banana plant” is applied to a bunch of different species in the genus Musa, the bananas and plantains. The genus contains some 70 different plants, most of which aren’t edible or just not very pleasant to eat due to their large seeds. A hybrid called Musa × paradisiaca is said to be the parent of most edible banana cultivars.

Edible bananas, the result of domestication and selective cultivation by humans, have been around for a long time. Research has indicated that the cultivation of bananas, now one of the most common crops worldwide, began around 7,000 years ago in Southeast Asia. There are now estimated to be well over 1,000 different cultivars out there.

Banana plants are often confused with palms (hence their misnomer “banana palm”), but they actually form part of the order Zingiberales, alongside plants like ginger and Strelitzia (bird-of-paradise, another popular houseplant).

And while they’re usually referred to as “banana trees,” they are classified botanically as herbaceous perennials because they never form a woody stem (aka a trunk) the way a tree does—the “trunks” are actually succulent stalks (pseudostems).

Banana “trees” are characterized by their massive foliage, which are quite fragile. In banana trees kept outdoors, the leaves usually look torn and shredded, but this doesn’t bother the plant itself.

Because banana plants die off after blooming but produce plenty of offsets (also known as pups or shoots) before doing so, mature ones that have been left to grow wild will often consist of a bunch of different stems growing together.


Although Musa isn’t a huge genus, it does have a pretty wide spread. It can naturally be found as far west as India and as far east as northern Australia, preferring tropical and subtropical regions (in what is called the wet tropical biome). Some occur in high altitude forests, while others call shrubby zones at sea level their home.

Nowadays, of course, banana plants grow in tropical regions all over the world. Humans have had plenty of time to spread them everywhere, and the banana has supported many civilizations since it was first cultivated. Musa seems to have popped up in Africa around 4,500 years ago, for example.

Types of banana plants

As I mentioned, there are over a thousand banana cultivars, so I could dedicate a whole book to describing all of them! Some are edible, some are ornamentals, some are both. There are loads of funky varieties to be found, like one that produces pink fruits (Musa velutina) and even variegated banana plants.

Here are a few types of banana plants you may come across at your local garden center:

  • Musa acuminata ‘Dwarf Cavendish’: Up to 10 feet high, but usually smaller. Produces large bunches of sweet fruit. 
  • Musa basjoo (cold-hardy banana tree): Also known as the Japanese banana. Its roots will survive winters as far north as USDA zone 5. Grown as an ornamental only.
  • Musa ‘Dwarf Red’: A beautiful little plant with both partially red leaves as well as dark red-skinned fruit!
  • Musa ‘Florida’: If you have some money to burn ($150+ for a baby plant), you can get this beautiful and coveted green-and-white cultivar. Apparently, even the fruit is variegated!
  • Musa acuminata ‘Grand Nain’: You’ll find the fruits of this one in grocery stores worldwide, like those by Chiquita.
  • Musa acuminata × balbisiana ‘Blue Java’ (ice cream banana): This species grows to up to 15 feet tall and produces delicious, custardy fruit with a beautiful blue-green skin.
  • Musa ‘Siam Ruby’: Almost entirely red leaves with barely any green. The fruit isn’t that palatable, but with those foliage colors, who cares?!
  • Musa ‘Pisang Ceylon’: Produced by a company called AgriStarts as an improvement on Musa ‘Mysore’, which was too sensitive to Banana Streak Virus. The tasty small fruits are called lady fingers. 
  • Musa ‘Rajapuri’: Small (less than 10 feet tall) banana plant that produces delicious, small fruits.
  • Musa acuminata var. Zebrina (blood banana): Very decorative ornamental with red-streaked green leaves. 
  • Musa ‘Dwarf Puerto Rican’: Here’s one for those who love plantains (cooking bananas) as much as I do. It’s diminutive, but produces fruit perfect for frying or making banana chips.

Growing a banana plant indoors

Are banana plants suitable as houseplants?

Although your banana plant will love living outdoors at least part of the year, it can do well indoors too. Just remember that these are tropicals, which hail from extremely sunny, humid regions. They like the comfy temperatures in our homes, but you need to make sure you meet their other needs as well. 

You’ll want to place your banana right in front of the sunniest window you can offer, unless you’re willing to set up grow lights. It’s also important to keep the humidity high, or those large, lush leaves will soon be crispy and brown. 

Indoor banana plant varieties

As mentioned in the section on banana plant varieties, there are some species and cultivars that stay under 10 feet. If you keep these indoors, where their growth is often a little stunted compared to outdoors, they likely won’t outgrow your home any time soon.

Indoor banana plants generally won’t fruit, so you don’t have to worry about whether the type you’re after produces edible bananas or not. Consider one of the following, for example:

  • Dwarf Cavendish
  • Truly Tiny (Dwarf Cavendish’ even smaller sister)
  • Dwarf Red
  • Rajapuri
  • Dwarf Puerto Rican
  • Dwarf Orinoco
  • Veranda
Indoor banana plant care

Once you’ve found a nice and sunny spot for your banana plant, you can plant it in a container with a drainage hole and rich, acidic but well-draining soil. Everyone has their own favorite mixtures, but something like this is a good starting point:

  • 3 parts peat
  • 1 part perlite
  • 1 part vermiculite
  • Some compost, worm castings or other organic material

When growing a banana plant indoors, overwatering is more of a risk than outside. Still, these plants do like plenty of moisture, so keep the soil lightly moist.

You may have to water as often as twice a week during the summer months, while in winter, your plant may only need water every one-and-a-half weeks or even more infrequently. You can check the soil moisture level by sticking your finger in the pot; water when the top 2 to 3 inches feel dry.


Although they don’t need quite as much in terms of fertilizer indoors, your banana plant will still appreciate a regular little boost. They’re always working on new leaves that need nutrients to grow!

You can use a normal liquid balanced houseplant fertilizer every other week or so while watering. Don’t fertilize if your banana is dormant during winter.