For information on fruiting types, see Banana. The ornamental bananas described here include tall, medium-size, and dwarf plants; some of the tall sorts are the size of trees. All types are fast growing; all have soft, thickish stalks (called pseudostems) and spread by suckers or underground roots to form clumps that are often as wide as or wider than the plant is tall. Spectacular-looking long, typically broad leaves are easily tattered by strong winds, so choose protected planting sites. Will usually regrow from roots if cut down by frost; in frost-prone areas, locate plants where their absence won't be conspicuous. Give rich soil; feed heavily. Can be grown in containers and overwintered indoors (cut tops off tall plants). No water or fertilizer needed until moved outdoors after last spring frost. To overwinter plants in the ground in northern parts of hardiness range, mulch heavily in early winter.
M. acuminata. From Southeast Asia. Many selections available. Plants are grown for fruit in warmest gardens, but they also make handsome ornamentals there as well as in cooler areas. Some have especially attractive foliage. Leaves of 6- to 10-ft.-tall 'Zebrina' ('Roja', 'Rojo', 'Sumatra', 'Sumatrana') are green with maroon stripes; the plant produces tiny, inedible, dark maroon fruit. 'Siam Ruby' boasts rusty red foliage with lime-green flecks, growing 8 ft. tall under ideal conditions. 'Bordelon' has red striped leaves backed with red, one of the hardiest of the group, surviving into the Lower South.
M. balbisiana 'Thai Black'. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. This black-stemmed banana impresses with fast growth that can reach 18 ft. tall, sending up new shoots to increase the clump annually. Named for the black midribs coming from the pseudostem. Needs good drainage in winter.
M. basjoo. JAPANESE BANANA. Zones US, MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 6-11. From China. The hardiest of the banana clan. To 15 ft. tall, with narrow, green leaves about 8 ft. long. Terminal spikes of yellow flowers may be followed by small, unpalatable fruit.
M. itinerans xishuangbannaensis. Zones MS, LS, CS, TS; USDA 7-11. From China. This cold-hardy giant has been known to overwinter as far north as Louisville, Kentucky. Growing 40 ft. tall in warm zones and half that in cool climates, 'Mekong Giant' develops pink-purple pseudostems. The plant spreads rapidly by underground rhizomes. Flowers are red and yellow; grows in either sun or shade. Ornamental fruit.
M. ornata. FLOWERING BANANA. Grows to 9 ft. tall, with blue-green leaves 46 ft. long and 1112 ft. wide; each leaf has a red-purple midrib on the underside. Erect blossom stalks carry pale pink or pale purple bracts tipped with yellow; these are used as cut flowers. Small fruit (to 3 in. long) is decorative but inedible. 'African Red' has red bracts and yellow fruit. 'Bronze' features light green leaves and pink-tinged stems; it bears orange-bronze inflorescences. 'Milky Way' has white bracts and white fruit; 'Royal Purple' bears bluish purple bracts.
M. xparadisiaca. This hybrid of M. acuminata and M. balbisiana provides the most common ornamental and some selections of fruiting bananas. Clumps grow to 20 ft. tall and half as wide, with leaves to 9 ft. long. Flower stalks are pendent, bearing large, showy, powdery purple bracts; fruit (usually seedy and inedible) follows in warm and frost-free areas such as south Florida or sheltered courtyards during mild winters in the Coastal South. For information about growing edible fruit, see Bananas.
M. velutina. PINK BANANA. Zones LS, CS, TS; USDA 8-11. From India. Grows to 57 ft. tall, with 3-ft.-long leaves that are green above, bronzy beneath. Upright pink bracts; orange flowers; and small, velvety pink bananas that are seedy and inedible but highly decorative.