There are many types of banana available to the home gardener, many of which produce copious amounts of fruit. But did you know there are also various types of the ornamental red banana plant too, specifically grown for their attractive red foliage color? Read on to learn more about these interesting plants.
What is a Red Banana Tree?
Ornamental red banana trees can belong to either the Ensete or Musa genera.
Ensete, also known as enset, is an important food crop in Ethiopia and an ornamental plant enjoyed in landscapes around the world. Though the bananas they produce are not edible, Ensete plants do produce food in the form of a starchy corm (underground storage organ) and a starchy stem base. Enset farmers in Ethiopia dig up the corms and lower stems of mature trees and process them into bread or porridge.
Like the more familiar banana plants in the Musa genus, this red- and green-leaved banana species is the size of a tree but is actually a giant herbaceous plant. Its trunk is a non-woody “pseudostem” made of leaf stalks (petioles) that grow tightly bundled together. In Ethiopia, fibers harvested from the pseudostem are traditionally used for making mats and ropes.
Ensete ventricosum is one of several ornamental banana plants available to gardeners in zones 9 to 11. A favored variety with strong red coloration is “Maurelii,” which grows 12 to 15 feet (3.5 to 4.5 meters) tall and 8 to 10 feet (2.5 to 3 meters) wide. This ornamental red banana plant makes a lovely centerpiece for a tropical garden or courtyard. You may also find this ornamental plant labeled as Red Abyssinian banana (Ensete maurelii), which has the same striking foliage flushed with burgundy-red.
Other red-leaved ornamental bananas include Musa acuminata “Zebrina,” “Rojo” and “Siam Ruby.” These may be better choices for very humid locations such as many parts of Florida.
Growing ornamental bananas in large pots is also possible. In cooler climates, pots can be brought outdoors in summer and indoors in winter, but be sure you have enough space for the plant before beginning this endeavor.
How to Grow a Red Banana
Ensete grows best in a relatively dry climate similar to its native habitat in the East African highlands. It cannot tolerate frost and dislikes high humidity. However, some gardeners have successfully grown it even in humid areas.
Enset trees also grow more slowly than Musa banana trees and have lifespans ranging from 3 to 10 or more years. With patience, you may be able to see your tree flower. Each plant flowers only once, at full maturity, and then dies.
Red banana plant care involves proper site selection, watering, and fertilization. These trees require rich soil with plenty of organic matter and partial or full sun. Be sure the soil at the planting site is well drained.
Water the plant weekly, more often during the hottest part of summer. This is especially important in the first season after planting. Well-established plants can survive drought, but they won’t look their best without adequate water. Fertilize in the early spring with compost or a balanced fertilizer.