Most people are familiar with the yellow Cavendish banana, by far the most common type around the world. However, there are actually over 1,000 varieties from which to choose. In fact, one of the lesser known types comes from the variegated banana tree.
By definition, variegation is when an object’s coloring is divided into patches or spots of several shades. You’ll find examples of this in leaves, flower petals, minerals, or animal fur and feathers. It also occurs in fruit, and the variegated banana is an entire species cultivated to carry on the phenomenon. As a fruit lover, enrich yourself by learning about them!
History of Variegated Banana Tree
Historians regard Southern Asia and the South Pacific islands as the birthplaces of variegated banana trees. Once discovered, farmers and travelers spread the bananas to Florida, the Hawaiian Islands, and other tropical regions. They became especially popular in Hawaii, where they’re called ‘musa ae ae.’
At first, only Hawaiian royalty was allowed to eat such a rare treat. Nowadays, anybody can have them, provided they have the money.
Characteristics of a Variegated Banana Tree
Since variegated banana trees originally came from regular banana trees, they look similar–slender trunks rising upward with banana clusters and soft, wide, long leaves hanging from the branches. The leaves and bananas feature stripes or splotches, usually white or pale green. In spring and summer, they may grow red or pink flowers with winding, graceful petals.
It’s not uncommon for banana trees to reach 10 to 30 feet in height, with each cluster of bananas containing 10 to 20 individual fruits.
Characteristics of Variegated Bananas
Because of their rarity, many people wouldn’t know a variegated banana if they saw or tasted one. They wouldn’t know what they could gain from eating one, either. If you keep reading, you will know!
Like Cavendish bananas, the variegated species is shaped like a six- to eight-inch-long elongated oval, often curved, though it can also be straight. The skin is usually smooth yet rubbery, with splotches or length-wise stripes ranging from white to green or yellow.
A variegated banana has the familiar cream-colored inner flesh of the Cavendish banana, though it could also look slightly orange. When raw, the flesh feels firm and tastes mild yet sweet. Cooking the flesh softens the texture and enhances the sweetness.
Despite their unique appearance, variegated bananas have many of the same health benefits as other kinds of bananas. They’re a great source of potassium, magnesium, folate, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C.
By making bananas a regular part of your diet, you’ll enjoy more robust muscular, nervous, cardiovascular, and immune systems. You’ll also grow stronger bones, have more energy, and boost your mental health.
How to Grow a Variegated Banana Tree
If you live in the southern U.S. or own a greenhouse, you may be able to grow your own variegated banana tree. But you’ll need to know how to nurture it so that you can enjoy your own home-grown bananas one day. For that, just follow a few simple tips!
Since they’re native to tropical climates, choosing a sunny spot is an essential first step for planting a variegated banana tree. Nevertheless, there should be a little shade available, as the pale stripes and splotches are particularly susceptible to sunburn. Early springtime is best for planting so that the tree has ample time to establish roots and strengthen its trunk and branches before the colder seasons arrive.
After that, you’ll need to remove any leaves at the bottom of the trunk or which appear to be old and dying. Once you’ve placed the banana tree in a hole about 1.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep, enrich the surrounding soil with fertilizer and mulch or compost.
For a comprehensive five-step walkthrough, check out our guide on How to Plant a Banana Tree!
Banana trees require careful attention in order to flourish. For example, yours will grow best with consistent moisture. Use sprinklers to water it at least once a day, but increase that to two or three times if the air is not humid. The best time to prune is normally late summer or early fall, right after the tree produces fruit and before the weather gets cold. Learn more by reading our instructions on How to Grow a Banana Tree.
If your variegated banana tree is outside, annual winterization is imperative to their health; these trees are easily damaged by wind and freezing temperatures. Storing it in a greenhouse is ideal, but barring that, you’ll need to move it into a heated container. Get rid of any dead or decaying leaves and branches to conserve the plant’s energy. For details, we offer a guide on How to Winterize a Banana Tree.
As long as you take good care of your tree, you’ll likely get to harvest variegated bananas after about a year. Our article, How Long Does It Take to Grow a Banana Tree, will tell you more about that.
Ideas for Eating Variegated Bananas
Once you get your hands on some variegated bananas, you need to decide what to do with them. Luckily, we have a few recipe suggestions!
Blueberry Banana Bread
Whether you want it as a snack, breakfast, or dessert, blueberry banana bread is a scrumptious addition to your day. If you bake blueberry banana bread with your variegated bananas, you’ll be treating yourself to a divine combination of tartness and sweetness. The recipe is so quick and easy that you can mix all the ingredients in a single bowl!
With its refreshing decadence, icebox pie is a perfect treat after any meal. This is especially true of peanut butter banana ice box pie. The smooth texture of peanut butter and bananas mixed with the crunch of graham crackers and richness of chocolate makes for an unforgettable experience. This is especially true if you use the fruit of a variegated banana tree.
Are you an ice cream lover? Variegated bananas can give you even more reasons to adore it. Get an ice cream maker from Amazon and put the mashed bananas together with sugar, eggs, and heavy cream for a delicious treat. Consider adding chopped hazelnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, or walnuts for a crunchy texture.
Healthy and filling, granola is an excellent choice for snacks or side dishes for meals. The only thing that could make almond granola tastier and more beneficial for your body is variegated bananas. You can also make muffins with the granola!
Where to Buy Variegated Bananas
Because variegated bananas are rare in comparison to other species, they can be expensive and hard to find. Nevertheless, they’re available to anyone with the resources and money. You just have to know where to look.
Buying the Plant
If it’s a variegated banana tree that you want, gardening stores may have them available for purchase. Check out Home Depot or local nurseries. Otherwise, consider online retailers, such as Nature Hills Nursery, Rob’s Rare Plants, Urban Tropicals, or even Etsy.
Buying the Fruit
Do you just want the fruit? Some sellers like Miami Fruit and Specialty Produce will ship them to you once they’re in season. Locally, you may be able to find them at Walmart or other large grocery stores.
Ready to Try Variegated Bananas?
It’s been fun to give you a summary of the rare and exquisite variegated banana tree. Not only it is a source of delicious homegrown bananas, but the colorful, striped foliage brings a festive, tropical feel to your garden space!
Are you curious about anything else involving bananas? We have a Banana Trees page dedicated to them, so we’re happy to answer your questions! While you’re there, check out our articles about other plants and fruits, too. We’ll help you expand your personal garden or orchard and enjoy the benefits of home-grown food!