Banana shrubs (Magnolia figo; formerly Michelia figo) are drought tolerant, evergreen shrubs with beautiful, creamy yellow flowers, which are edged in purple and look like miniature Southern magnolia blooms. This great similarity of the banana shrub flowers to those of magnolias is the reason for the recent taxonomic change to Magnolia figo.
Banana shrubs were introduced into the US from Southeastern China in 1789. Although they are not native, they are not considered invasive plants. This shrub has a medium rate of growth up to 10 feet tall, but then they grow more slowly and eventually reach 15 or 20 feet tall. The mature growth habit of banana shrubs ranges from an upright oval to more rounded form. Although they will grow in full shade to full sun, the foliage may become more yellow green if planted in excessive sunlight. If grown in partial shade, this shrub will maintain a dense, thick form and will flower profusely.
Banana shrub flower buds are attractive and are a soft fuzzy, warm brown. In the Upstate of SC, flowering is typically from late April through early May. The flowers have a wonderful fragrance similar to ripe bananas, and they flower well even as younger plants. Any pruning required should be done soon after the bloom period, as flower bud formation for next year occurs by early summer.
Banana shrubs grow well from USDA zones 7b to 9 (10), which covers all of SC, except for the mountains in the Upstate. Water the shrubs regularly after planting, but once they are established, they are drought tolerant plants. They can be good choice for the coastal regions, as they are slightly salt tolerant. Additionally, banana shrubs are relatively deer resistant. The only infrequent insect pest of banana shrubs is the false oleander scale, which is more of a problem in the coastal areas of SC.
For more information on banana shrubs and their magnolia relatives, please see: HGIC 1015, Magnolia.