The delicate flowers have white petals edged in dark red and reek of banana! Sample the fragrance early in the morning as it soon dissipates on hot days leaving you odorless and alone. Click to download a large version (800x600) of this image.
The banana shrub is so called because of the distinctive, sweet banana scent of its flowers. These are formed within interesting fuzzy brown bracts that form a 1 in (2.5 cm) cigar-shaped bud. From these, small off-white flowers burst forth from late spring through summer. The blossoms are about 1.5 in (3.8 cm) in diameter with each of six waxy petals delicately outlined in dark red. Banana shrub is an evergreen woody plant with multiple stems and much branching. Left to itself it assumes a rounded open form reaching 15 ft (4.6 m) in height and almost as wide. The oblong, glossy green leaves are 3-5 in (7.6-12.7 cm) long by 1-2 in (2.5-5.1 cm) high.
Originally from China, banana shrub was introduced to United States in late 1700s and is one of the classic evergreen shrubs of the old south.
Prefers acid, fertile, well drained soil with plenty of organic matter. Not particularly fast growing. May be pruned after blooming, but is most impressive when allowed to grow to natural size and shape. Although scale might develop, it is easily controlled. Nursery specimens of banana shrub tend to look scraggly, but containerized plants thrive once they are liberated from their pots. Light: Sun to shade. The shrub assumes a looser more open form when grown in shade. Individuals grown in sunny situations tend to be more compact with denser foliage that is lighter and more yellow green. Moisture: Average. Hardiness: USDA Zones 7 (marginal ) to 10. Propagation: From cuttings during warm weather.
Jack planted this banana shrub beneath the canopy of a live oak (Quercus virginiana). It is in full shade and is left to grow naturally being maintained at a height of 12 ft (3.7 m) by occasional heading back.
Banana shrub can be used as a hedge, just as you would viburnum (Viburnum odoratissimum) or ligustrum (Ligustrum japonicum) and is a good alternative to those species. It can be incorporated into a mixed shrub border or used as a free standing specimen. The only down side to using it as a hedge is that it is not as fast growing as some other shrubs. In the long run, however, it is superb for this purpose because of its large size, flowers, and rich green foliage.
Banana shrub is a beautiful and interesting large plant that is especially useful in shade gardens where it can serve as a background and windshield for smaller woodland plants. The fragrant banana scented flowers are fascinating in form and fragrance. When grown as an understory plant under the canopy of taller trees the open branching structure provides excellent perches for songbirds in pursuit of prey.
This shrub is sometimes seen labeled M. fuscata which is a synonym. Banana shrub is in the Magnolia family and indeed its flower resembles a drab, not-as-pretty miniature version of the fabulous southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) whose big beautiful blossoms happen to smell like lemonade!
Despite the reference to "banana" in the common name, no part of this plant is edible. Only sniff, do not eat.