Banana Plant Growth Stages

There are over 1,000 types of bananas and plantains belonging to the Musa genus. Most of these bananas grow in tropical climates, though quite a few have adapted to more temperature regions.

The most common banana variety is Cavendish. Cavendish bananas represent most of those explicitly grown for their fruit (both commercially and at home) and sold in stores.

In this article, we’ll explore several banana plant growth stages and learn what happens when the plant is done producing fruit. 

Conditions for Growing Bananas

Most banana plants like full sun (at least 6 hours per day), warm temperatures (between 75 and 95°F), and plenty of water. However, there are some species including some fruiting trees that grow in shade

You can grow bananas in the landscape in USDA Zones 9 to 11. Gardeners outside of this climate can still grow bananas, but I recommend planting in a container that can be moved indoors during the cooler months. (Cold temperatures commonly cause delayed growth and flowering in banana plants.)

The active growing season typically lasts from spring to fall but may extend throughout the year in hot areas. Flowering generally occurs in the spring, with the resultant fruit ready to harvest by the end of summer.

Banana Plant Growth Rate

Most species of banana plants grow incredibly quickly, reaching a mature size of 20 to 40 feet within just nine months in some cases. If the growing conditions aren’t perfect, this growth can take about 2 to 3 years (but it’s still quite impressive!).

It’s common for a banana plant to reach its full size and flower in the first 12 months. The more time and attention you can spend on taking care of the banana, the faster it will grow.

Growth Stages of Banana Plant

Despite the banana plant’s unique appearance, its life cycle is surprisingly straightforward! It takes about nine months or longer for a banana plant to reach the flowering stage and then another 90 to 180 days on average for the fruit to be ready to harvest.

1. Seed Germination

Few bananas are grown from seed. However, it is possible and still represents an essential part of the banana plant life cycle.

First and foremost, wild banana varieties are typically the only ones to produce seeds. Commercial bananas have been purposely bred to be seedless. (It’s an exciting process — commercial bananas now have three sets of genes instead of the ‘normal’ two sets — and I recommend reading up on it further if you’re curious!)

This also means that the fruit of seed-grown bananas is rarely very similar to that of a commercial banana. Again, this has to do with the plant’s genetics and pollination. If you want to try growing a banana plant from seed, you’ll probably want to select a more ornamental variety.

Banana seeds have a natural dormancy that can be broken by soaking the seeds in warm water for 24 to 48 hours. The seeds imbibe water through seed coats, triggering cell division and germination.

Bananas germinate best in average temperatures of 68 to 95°F. Some sources claim fluctuating temperatures can help promote germination, but I haven’t tried this technique.

Even with the right conditions, on average, banana seed germination can take 30 to 180 days. 

2. Plantlets

The vast majority of commercial banana plants are propagated vegetatively. New plants can start from pieces of rhizome (unique underground stems) or small plantlets that sprout up around the base of the plant. 

The most significant advantage of growing bananas this way (aside from the increased growth rate compared to seed) is that the new plants are exact original clones. So you won’t get any weird genetic crosses in the fruit, which have been carefully bred over many years to be as big and sweet as possible.

3. Vegetative Growth

Whether your banana plant starts as a simple seed or a hearty plantlet, the subsequent growth stage is the same. The banana plant needs significant vegetative growth before it can flower and produce a fruit crop!

As the banana plant grows, its stalk will get taller and more expansive. New leaves will emerge from the center of the branch, pushing older foliage out and down. 

Note that the very top of the stalk is a crucial growth point for the banana plant. Any damage to this area will stop new growth in its tracks. (Meanwhile, additional stalks will likely sprout from the root system in time.)

Vegetative Growth

We call banana plants ‘trees’, but this is not botanically accurate. Yes, banana plants form a tree-like shape with a central trunk and a canopy of leaves. However, the box is just a modified stem — it will never turn woody like a real tree. Banana plants are, scientifically speaking, herbaceous perennials.

While not closely related, banana plants are more similar to palms than actual trees in quite a few ways. Both are classified as monocots, meaning they have only one cotyledon (seed leaf) and parallel veins in their adult leaves. If you understand the basics of how a palm tree grows, you already have a good grasp of the anatomy of a banana plant.

4. Flowering

Banana flowers are indeed a sight to behold! The plant has a unique flowering process that is exciting to observe, even if you don’t get edible bananas. The entire flowering process can take up to 90 days. 

Again, most banana plants will only flower when they are 9 to 12 months old. But remember that it’s very common for flowering to occur after a few years, especially if the growing environment is fairly cool.

Flowering begins with an inflorescence emerging from the center of the stalk (where the leaves grow from). The inflorescence sits at the end of a special stalk called a rachis. As the flower gets bigger and heavier, it will eventually hang from the center of the plant.

Flowering

The most impressive part of the inflorescence is the large purple bud that forms at the end. This contains the male flowers. The female flowers — which will turn into the banana fruit — are scattered along the length of the rachis and are far less showy.

In hybrid bananas, which don’t require the male flower to produce fruit, it’s common to remove the hanging bud to conserve energy.

5. Pollination

Not all banana plants must be pollinated to produce fruit. It all depends on the type of banana being grown.

According to Michigan State University, hybrid bananas (such as those sold by your local grocer) are parthenocarpic. Parthenocarpic fruit can be induced without traditional pollination and fertilization of the female flowers and, as a result, does not contain seeds. 

If pollination isn’t required for fruit production, how do the plants know when to make fruit? Assuming the right growing conditions, hybrid banana plants will still produce the hormones that trigger fruit development even without pollination. Commercial growers can also apply a special hormone treatment to encourage fruit production.

Wild banana varieties, on the other hand, do require pollination to make fruit. Fruit bats are the most common pollinators of such plants.

6. Fruit Development

Female banana flowers grow in clusters, commonly called hands. The bananas that form from these clusters are widely called fingers.

You can already see the shape of a banana fruit when the flower blooms. This is the flower’s ovary. If fruiting is triggered, the ovary will grow into a proper banana fruit.

Fruit Development

It can take 80 to 100 days — sometimes even longer — for the fruit to ripen after flowering. Environmental factors like temperature, moisture, and daylight hours can all impact the speed at which bananas ripen on the plant.

Fruit at the top of the inflorescence is the first to ripen. Ripening will then travel toward the tip of the inflorescence until all of the bananas are ripe and ready to pick.

7. Dieback and Regrowth

Once a banana plant flowers, it can’t continue growing. The stalk has reached the end of its life and will naturally die back. Most growers just cut the stalk to the ground at this point.

Don’t lose hope, though! If the banana plant is healthy, a new stalk will sprout from the root system to replace the old one. This stalk will follow the same growth pattern, eventually ending in an inflorescence and repeating the life cycle. On average, banana plants live for six years altogether.

When to Harvest Bananas

Bananas are best harvested when still green and then allowed to ripen off the plant. You can remove the entire inflorescence when the topmost fruit is starting to turn yellow-green and all of the fruit has a nice, plump shape. At this stage, the remains of the female flowers at the end of each banana fruit should be dry and easily brushed away.

For more articles about plant growth cycles, here’s a link to Sunflower Growth Stages.

FAQ Banana Plant Growth Stages

How do you tell if a banana plant is male or female?

It’s a common belief that banana plants are either male or female. The truth is that all banana plants bear both male and female flowers! This misconception likely stems from the fact that many bananas don’t require pollination, so the male flowers are removed almost as soon as they form.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.