(banana shrub, magnolia fuscata)
Magnoliaceae (magnolia family)
Originally known as Magnolia fuscata, and still called that by many today, the evergreen banana shrub provides one of the most distinctive fragrances in our southern gardens. Its pale, creamy-yellow blossoms in the spring are not showy, but when you smell like ripe bananas, you don't have to be.
The banana shrub is a native of China and according to The Hillier Manual of Trees and Shrubs, was introduced into Europe in 1789 as a greenhouse plant. Like many European greenhouse plants, it found itself right at home in gardens of the deep South. I couldn't locate a date of introduction into American gardens although Robert Buist listed it among the greenhouse plants in his American Flower-Garden Directory in 1860. Early nursery catalogs which I located carrying "Magnolia fuscata" included Mission Valley Nurseries near Victoria, Texas (1898-99), Rosedale Nurseries, Brenham, Texas (1901), Fruitland Nurseries, Augusta, Georgia (1906-07), and W.A. Yates' Nursery, Brenham, Texas (1906-08). I'm sure there are many more along with earlier dates in the southeastern states. By 1917 Bailey's Standard Encyclopedia mentions that Michelia fuscata is "one of the most popular garden shrubs in the southern states." Bailey's also lists Michelia Champaca as being cultivated in the southern states although I have never seen it.
Banana shrub grows best in an acidic, deep sandy loam soil. It is basically pest free but can occasionally suffer freeze damage especially in or near zone 7. It can be grown as a medium sized shrub or pruned up as a small tree. I have one at my parents home in East Texas trained as a small tree over a cedar bench which is quite nice.