How to Grow and Care for Banana Shrubs (Michelia or Magnolia Figo)

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Banana shrubs despite their name, are not related to banana trees. They are an evergreen shrub which is native to China. 

This perennial, grown as an ornamental plant, has beautiful, scented, and large blooms in spring. 


The banana shrubs were first introduced in China in the late 1700s. They are not native plant, but have been grown in gardens for hundreds of years. 

Originally classified as a member of the Michelia genus, they have recently been reclassified as a type of magnolia. They are prized for their bubble-gum, sickly-sweet fragrant blooms.

Plant Facts

Scientific nameMagnolia Figo 
Previously Michelia Figo or
Magnolia fuscata
Common namesBanana shrub
Port wine magnolia
Banana magnolia
Chinese tulip tree
Height6 -15 feet (2 -4.5 m)
Width6 – 10 feet (2 – 3 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness ZoneZone 7 to 10
Native toChina
Blooming seasonspring
Flower colorsWhite, pink, mauve, or maroon
Plant specific featuresFragrant flowers with a strong, banana-like scent

How to Plant and Grow Banana Shrubs 

Where to Plant

This is a tender plant with glossy, dense, and evergreen foliage. As well as being tender, this shrub will grow in height to around 15 feet (5 m). After approximately 20 years, it will spread to around 10 feet (3.05 m). 

Therefore, its potential final size needs to be considered when choosing a planting site.

It can be planted as a specimen tree, or against a wall, or along a trellis. You see it also growing in a large conservatory or in a woodland setting.

Because of its beautiful scent, it is ideal if it can be planted near a window or door so that you can enjoy its fragrance.

When to Plant

The ideal planting time for the banana shrub is in the autumn after rain. The soil should be damp and warm. This will give the shrub the best start and the best chance to develop strong roots before the start of the growing season. 

How to Plant

Because this shrub has only shallow roots, it doesn’t need a large planting hole. As with many shrubs, the banana shrub needs to be planted slightly higher than the ground level. This avoids the risk of root rot due to the plant sitting in water-logged soil. 

Banana Bushes Care and Maintenance


The banana shrub prefers light, sandy soil which is slightly acidic, like other ericaceous plants. The soil should be well-drained and enriched with organic matter.


Magnolia figo should be well-watered immediately after planting. Watering should continue regularly for the first season. 

This will encourage strong, and deep root systems to form. Once it is established, it is fairly drought tolerant.  


Slow-release, general-purpose fertilizer should be applied in the spring before the new growth starts to appear.  Use a fertilizer designed for ericaceous plants. 

Water well after applying the fertilizer to the soil around the base of the shrub.


The banana shrub will thrive whether planted in the sun or light shade. Plants that receive a lot of sunlight will have leaves that are more yellow.

Pruning and Repotting

This is a shrub that can grow very large. If you prune it regularly, you will encourage a bushy habit, with a more formal, rounded shape. You will also be able to control the height and spread of the banana shrub by giving it annual pruning.

A pruning should take place in the winter. Start by removing all dead or dying wood. This will increase air circulation and help prevent fungal diseases from infecting the shrub during the colder weather.

In the spring, you should prune to encourage new growth. This will also improve flower production. After flowering, dead flowers and old growth can be removed.


The stems that are removed after flowering can be used for propagation, providing that they are not diseased or decaying.

The best method to use for propagation is to take stem cuttings in the summer. These should be softwood stems, and the use of hormone-rooting powder will speed up the rooting process.

It takes around two months to obtain a rooting system, during which time the cuttings need to be kept well-misted. 

It is important that during the rooting stage, the soil should not dry out. Unlike other cuttings, it is not necessary to remove too many leaves or to cut the remaining leaves in half.

You may also be able to use the layering method to root the cuttings of the banana shrub. But this is only practicable if there are low-growing branches that can be pegged into the ground. 

If you are growing as a tree, this will probably not be a viable option.

Pests and diseases

Generally trouble-free. To reduce possible disease problems, try to give the shrub the best growing conditions. 

Often if the foliage is yellowing, it is caused by not giving the shrub sufficient nutrients. It can also be the result of too much fertilizer, overwatering, or poor drainage.

Scale infestations can cause problems, but damage can be treated with horticultural oil.

Temperature and Humidity

 Banana shrubs are subtropical plants. They are not hardy below USDA zone 8. This is why they are often grown as houseplants. 

They can be taken outside during the warm summer days and brought back into the warm for the winter.

You should also consider that this is a plant that in its native habitat grows in a high humidity environment. One way to increase the humidity of your plant is to put a layer of pebbles around the base. 

If growing in a container, place the pot on a pebble tray. Pebbles keep the pot above the water. This ensures that the roots won’t rot. Humidity levels around the plant are increased.

Other Uses for M. figo

Whether you choose to grow the banana shrub as part of a mixed planting scheme, or as a specimen plant, its aromatic flowers will enthrall.

Even without the flowers, the dark green, glossy foliage is attractive and, as an evergreen, will provide you with a useful colored backdrop throughout the year.

Types of You Can Grow

Magnolia figo (banana shrub) almost always bears creamy-white blooms; however, there are a couple of varieties that have purple or purple-pink flowers. Magnolia figo “port wine” and magnolia figo “purple queen” grow to around 15 feet (4.57 meters). 

These slow-growing banana shrubs have the same attractive, glossy green evergreen foliage as the white-flowered varieties. The scent is just as intense and, like all banana shrubs, they need a warm and sheltered position.


Although these shrubs are not fully hardy, if you have a climate in USDA zones 8 to 10, this plant should definitely be included in your planting scheme. 

Attractive all year long, and with the amazing sweet banana-like fragrance during the blooming season, it really is a lovely shrub to grow. 

*image by Debvi/pixabay

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