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What is a Banana Shrub?

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  • Written By: J.M. Densing
  • Edited By: R. Halprin
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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A banana shrub is an evergreen plant with unique flowers that resemble small magnolias and smell like bananas. Also known as the Port Wine Magnolia, its scientific name is Michelia figo. It is native to areas of China and mainly used as an ornamental plant in gardens. It is a hardy plant that is relatively easy to care for.

The height of the banana shrub can vary, but left alone without human intervention it will usually grow to about 15 feet (4.6 m) high, and spread out to a width of about 15 feet (4.6 m) across. It can be maintained at a variety of other sizes by pruning. The stems are woody and branch out profusely in multiple directions. The evergreen leaves have a smooth, leathery texture and a dark green color that lightens to a yellowish green in the winter. The leaves have an elongated oval shape and are about 1.5 to four inches (3.8 to 10 cm) long.

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The flowers of the banana shrub are quite unique. They grow out of a fuzzy brown bud that is shaped like a fat cigar, blooming from late spring through summer. The flowers resemble magnolias, but are much smaller, measuring just about 1.5 (3.8 cm) inches across with six waxy petals. The most common coloring is a creamy off-white thinly edged with deep burgundy red, but there is a variety available that is an attractive shade of purple. The flowers of the banana shrub are strongly fragranced with a scent like bananas; this scent is stronger in the morning hours and fades in the heat of the day.

China is the native area of the banana shrub, where it is often used as an evergreen hedge. It has been in cultivation in North America since the late 1700s. It is considered to be a traditional evergreen shrub in many areas of the old South. It prefers a warm, temperate climate with mild winters and medium humidity.

In landscaping and gardens, the banana shrub is an interesting ornamental plant. It can be used as a hedge, either mixed with other plants or alone, or it can be planted as a free-standing shrub. It can be particularly useful in shade gardens to shelter smaller plants and to provide a spot for birds to perch. The plant does best in a location with full sun to partial shade and should be watered regularly with the soil kept moist. It can be fertilized monthly if desired and propagated using cuttings in the warm weather.

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