Musa basjoo or Japanese fiber banana is the hardiest banana plant.
It grows very quickly when it gets enough nutrition and the rhizome tolerates frost down to -15 °C.
It was thought it was originally from Japan but it was discovered that it actually comes from China. This explains the etymology of the name, which is derived from the Chinese.
It was introduced in the United Kingdom in the 19th century and spread from there. In the Victorian era, it was a beloved plant because of its exotic looks and hardiness.
This is the ideal species for beginners.
Musa basjoo is a herb with a pseudostem formed by the petioles which are up to 2-2.5 m long.
The leaf blade is bright green, up to 2 m long and 70 cm wide.
The inflorescence of up to 1 m long is pendulous and carries both male and female flowers. The bracts are reddish brown to purple.
The bananas are yellow-green, 5-10 cm long and 2-3 cm wide. Although they are edible, they are very bland with little flesh and numerous hard black seeds.
The plant needs 12-24 months to flower and form fruit.
Musa basjoo is widely grown as an ornamental plant.
It has been wrongly told that in Japan the fibers of the pseudostem are used for the manufacturing of textiles and paper, this is actually Musa balbisiana.
Hardy fibre banana, Japanese banana, Japanese fibre banana, Japanese hardy banana
Musa japonica, Musa dechangensis, Musa lushanensis, Musa luteola
Musa: new Latin musa, derived from the Aarabic máwza (banana)
Basjoo: derived from the Japanese basho, which in turn is derived from the Chinese ba jiao
China (Sichuan, where he also grows in the wild)
Mainly in culture
USDA zones 5-11, -15 °C
The leaves die off at 0 °C, the pseudostem is affected at -6 °C and the rhizome at -15 °C provided it is covered with a thick layer of mulch.
It is recommended to cut the leaf blades for the winter and pack the pseudostem with isolating material.
Or you can leave it without winter protection. Simply cut down to the ground, the rhizome will sprout again next spring.
Nutritious and well drained
Prefers full sun, tolerates partial shade
Choose a place that is sheltered from the wind, otherwise the leaf blades will tear
Needs a lot of water during the growing period, keep the soil moist but not wet.
Musa basjoo is a very fast grower if it gets enough nutrition. During the growth period fertilize weekly with universal liquid fertilizer.
You can overwinter it in three ways:
- cut the whole plant down to the ground before the winter. The rhizome survives down to -15 °C and will sprout again the next spring. You increase the chances of the rhizome surviving a harsh winter by covering it with a thick layer of mulch.
- cut the leaf blades down to the pseudostem and pack the pseudostem with straw. Surround it with breathing material to keep the straw together: reed mat, protective veil… no plastic sheet because it prevents aeration, which causes rot.
- grow the plant in a pot and let it overwinter indoors. If you put it in a cool place, you may as well remove the leaf blades because the plant will not grow anyway. If you put it in the living room, you may leave the leaves, but be aware that they are sensitive to the dry air indoors, so do not place near a heater.
There has been much talk about the fact that Musa basjoo can only be propagated by suckers (or pups) and not by seed. However, Musa basjoo does produce viable seed but in the right circumstances.
First of all, the male and female flowers on the same inflorescence do not bloom simultaneously: first the female flowers bloom and then the male. This prevents self-pollination. There should therefore be at least 2 plants close enough to each other and their flowering should not be synchronous in order for pollination to happen.
In addition, the fruit – and the seeds they contain – should get enough heat in the fall to mature. This can happen up to USDA zone 8, but only if there is an exceptionally warm autumn.
Musa basjoo are starting to appear in the seed trade, but I would be careful with purchasing them.
It is remarkable that in the 19th century, it is stated in horticultural literature that Musa basjoo produces suckers, however not as much as the plants that are available nowadays. Almost all M. basjoo plants in the trade have been cloned and in the process been exposed in vitro to synthetic cytokinin. This probably explains why Mr. basjoo currently available produces suckers profusely.
How to propagate by suckers?
- wait until the suckers are at least 30-40 cm high
- cut the rhizome as close to the mother plant as possible so your new plant has enough rhizome
- plant in moist soil
- Musa basjoo: Own work | CC BY 4.0