Banana trees are treelike in appearance, but they are not trees at all. The plants are herbaceous perennials, and as such, they do not live as long as most trees. Desirable for their tropical appearance and tasty fruit, banana plants thrive in rich, moist soil and full sunlight. Unfortunately, they do not tolerate temperature or environmental extremes very well and can suffer from nematodes; all which can affect the average life of a banana tree.
How Bananas Grow
Understanding the life of a banana plant means understanding how it grows. Banana plants grow on rhizomes, which are thick, fleshy, horizontal roots. They are similar to flower bulbs and are sometimes called corms. The rhizome puts out a stem, which grows and matures over a period of several months. The leaves push up through the center of this stem, which is actually composed of the leaf stalks. They emerge through the top, followed by the flower and young fruit, which eventually mature into ripe bananas.
It takes between nine and 12 months for a banana plant to produce a flower after being planted, and it takes another two to three months for the bananas to ripen after that. Once this cycle is completed, the mother plant dies. For this reason, it may be said that on average, according to the growth cycle, a banana plant lives for 13 months. However, the mother plant, while producing bananas, is also producing pups, or tiny baby plants that grow around the base of the main plant.
Other, smaller shoots grow from the rhizome along with the main shoot. These are called pups, suckers or baby banana plants. Commercial growers usually remove them so that the main plant can grow big and strong. The pups can be planted or given away. After the mother plant dies, there are usually several new pups that have already or will soon emerge from the rhizome. One of these will be chosen by the grower to mature into a new plant. So, even though the mother plant has died, the rhizome continues to live and will produce a new shoot to replace it, much like a tulip, daffodil or other bulb flower.
Commercially cultivated banana plants will usually produce healthy shoots from the rhizome for about six years, according to Purdue University. So, it can be said that a banana plant lives for six years, if you consider the rhizome to be the plant. Unfortunately, many things can shorten the life of a rhizome. Nematodes can cut the life of a banana rhizome in half. This happens often in tropical areas unless banana fields are carefully maintained. In the United States, soil nematodes are far less common. Too much water in the soil can cause the rhizome to rot. Other factors can affect the plant itself. Winds easily knock banana plants down, and freezing temperatures will stop the plant from growing. Hot temperatures (around 100 degrees Fahrenheit) will prevent the plant from flowering or producing bananas.