Ice banana? It almost sounds too good to be true. But the blue java banana, also called ice cream bananas, is an incredible fruit. An ice cream banana is initially blue on the plant, but when it ripens, it becomes creamy yellow. And did I mention it tasted like vanilla ice cream?
A little sticky compared to other types of bananas, these are becoming increasingly popular around the world. While they grow naturally in Hawaii or other tropical regions, more and more people in warm climates are starting to grow their own blue java bananas.
These plants are a fantastic addition to any food garden, but they are pretty amazing even if all you want is a tropical paradise in your garden. The flower is amazing and the fact that you can get fresh fruit from it is so much the better. So let's talk about the ice cream banana plant and how to care for it!
Get a blue java banana
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Brief instructions for care
Before they are ripe, the blue Java banana has a bluish tinge in its fruits. Source: Rigid
|Common Name (s)||Blue Java Banana, Ice Cream Banana, Hawaiian Banana, Blue Banana|
|Scientific name||Musa acuminata x Musa balbisiana, ABB group|
|Days to harvest||115-150 days after flowering|
|Water:||Constantly every 1-2 days|
|ground||Well-drained, pH 5.5-7.0, free from Fusarium|
|fertilizer||8-10-8 to 10-10-10 for growth, 10-10-15 for fruiting|
|Pests||Aphids, spider mites, thrips, root-knot nematodes, coquito, mealybugs, black weevils|
|Diseases||Leaf Spot, Panama Disease, Banana Bunchy Top Disease, Banana Mosaic Virus|
Everything about Blue Java Banana
All edible bananas are hybrids of two species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. These are divided into groups using either A or B, referring to either Musa acuminata or M. balbisiana. Three letters indicate how much of each species is in the hybrid.
Blue Java bananas belong to the ABB group. They take one set of chromosomes from Musa acuminata and two from Musa balbisiana.
Musa acuminata is commonly known as the Cavendish banana or any number of Cavendish-related varieties thereof. They are a type of dessert banana. Musa balbisiana is the type most commonly used for cooking bananas such as plantain. So it's interesting that such a sticky and rich dessert banana came from this stash!
With Musa acuminata in the line of the ABB Group, the blue Java banana still has a delicious dessert taste. It is often referred to as ice banana because it tastes like ice cream. It's purportedly a custard flavor and definitely worth a visit!
Blue Java bananas, like all bananas, grow from a rhizomatic tuber. This base extends about 18 inches into the ground before roots emerge. The rhizome produces a main stem, the false trunk, which forms the "trunk" of the banana tree. This stem is actually a cylinder of tightly packed banana leaves that grow straight out of the tuber.
When the blue java banana bears fruit, it sends out a thick stalk called a true stem. This grows through the center of the main stem and then outwards and hangs to one side. A single large flower develops on this true stem. Each petal will gradually peel off, forming a shadow for the small collection of banana flowers below.
This is what ultimately becomes the fruit. As they grow, they are blue bananas, really pretty on the plant. Each hand of ice cream bananas will form under its petal until no more petals open. At this point, the remaining flower can be cut away so the plant can focus on its fruit.
It can take 15 to 24 months for the ice banana plant to develop its first main stem. Further offshoots or "pups" form from the tuber around the outside of the blue Java plant. Once the fruit turns yellow and ripe, the false stalk can be cut back to the tuber and one of these new pups can take over for the next growth spurt.
While there are many species of dwarf bananas, this is not one of them. In California, they average 12 to 15 feet tall, and in tropical regions they can reach heights of 20 feet.
Blue Java Banana Care
The banana leaves are long and very large. Source: Rigid
Maintaining them is pretty easy as long as you give them the right start. Read through to find out the best conditions for your facility!
Sun and temperature
You definitely want to give your banana trees full sun conditions. They prefer 8-12 hours of sunlight a day. They can tolerate partial shade, but do not grow as vigorously. So make sure your bananas get plenty of sunlight.
Java blue bananas are much more cold tolerant than other types of bananas. In fact, they are so cold tolerant that they can survive up to 20 degrees Fahrenheit with a protective cover. That's much, much colder than other bananas!
However, it is best not to test the cold tolerant status too much. They do best in USDA growth zones 9-10, but can grow in zones 8-11. If you have a place that stays between 50 and 90 degrees during the day and rarely drops below 30 degrees, your blue java should thrive. It's also heat-resistant and lasts 100-degree days like a champ if it's well watered.
Water and moisture
All bananas love water. You will find that these tropics are thirsty! However, they also won't tolerate standing water nearby. Make sure that your soil is very well drained and that it does not collect around the plant when it rains. If you prefer, put a soak tube around the base and let it soak for a long and deep time.
Pour deep daily or every other day. In the summer it is probably daily. For the rest of the year, skip watering if it rains heavily and water every other day if it hasn't rained.
Like most of the tropics, your blue java enjoys a certain amount of humidity. While it can survive in lower humidity ranges, a humidity level of 50% is nearly perfect.
Good drainage is essential for growing bananas, especially blue java. Like most other banana trees, its root system is susceptible to fungal pathogens such as pythium, which cause root rot. It is also prone to fusarium. Both tend to develop in excessively moist soils. So make sure they drain very well.
If possible, start with a sterile soil mix to avoid ground-based fusarium. If this is not possible, solarize your soil months before planting to reduce the risk.
If you're mixing your own potting soil, make sure about 20% of it is made up of perlite or other drainage aids. Use coconut, peat moss, or even some worm casts to help create water retention. Good quality compost is another great ingredient. When adding soil, try to provide loamy or sandy soil instead of clay.
Blue Java bananas prefer a soil pH between 5.5 and 7.0. They grow best in this neutral to slightly acidic area.
Try to use a fertilizer high in phosphorus for the initial growth. An 8-10-8 or a balanced 10-10-10 will work. Younger plants should be thinned a little with a strength of about 65-75%. If you are using a granular fertilizer, apply a little less for a young banana than for an older one.
Once the tree is old enough to bear fruit, swap it out for a high-potassium fertilizer when it begins to remove its true trunk. Aim for a 10-10-15 or 10-10-20. This promotes fruit formation.
Do not fertilize in winter as the plant is dormant at this point.
The top of an ice cream banana plant with a single flower stem. Source: Rigid
One of the best things about growing blue bananas is that it is a plant with minimal pruning. Yes, it does require some cutting, but it's pretty easy.
Pups, or suckers, form around the base of the adult stem. These become the next fruit part of the banana plant. So be careful not to remove all of them. However, the weaker ones should be removed so that the plant can focus its energy on the stronger and healthier ones. Pick vigorous ones to stay once the current bogus stem is six months into growth.
If possible, only remove leaves if they are yellowed or browned themselves. Leaves that begin to shrink usually loosen their grip on the main stem and can be easily pulled from the plant at that point. If you can't peel it off easily, leave it in place.
Once the adult stem has produced its true stem and finished the fruit, there is one more task to complete. The adult stalk will only produce a single crop of fruit and should then be cut back to the tuber so that one of the pups can take over the next year. Be careful when doing this to avoid damaging the young plants.
Always use sterilized loppers or scissors when pruning. This will reduce the risk of transmitting plant diseases.
When the first flower appears, leave all of the leaves on the true stem just above it. This shields the flower from direct sun and helps with fruit production.
As each petal begins to peel away from the main bud, it reveals a hand made of tiny bananas. Once they have all appeared, the full stem with its entire load of bananas is called a bunch. If possible, use a bag made of floating row covering material to loosely cover the bundle and protect your fruit from pest damage.
Your bananas will continue to develop and enlarge under the fabric. They develop a nice shade of blue as they grow, but eventually turn yellow. If the flower's petals stop peeling upward to reveal more bananas, the rest of the bananas are unlikely to form.
You can clip the bottom of your cloth bag right over the remains of the flower and loosely attach it to the top of the real stem above the bundle. Leave a little play so the bananas can develop.
Because of the weight of the bananas that will form, you'll want to add extra support to the real stem. A board with a U-shaped cutout provides good, user-friendly support that can be used to strengthen the stem against all the weight.
Blue Java seeds are notoriously unreliable, and that's if you ever see them. Most of the plants that are grown have been hybridized so deeply that they rarely produce seeds in the first place, and most of it is sterile. Those rare ones that produce potentially viable seeds have very low germination rates.
Therefore, it is best to either purchase a tissue culture plant or carefully separate a puppy from the tuber of the blue java plant. It's a bit of a tricky process as you don't want to damage the tuber too much. However, if you are careful you should be able to cut through the tuber and move the pup to a new location.
Harvesting and storing
Baby blue Java bananas are taking shape. Source: Rigid
How do you harvest an ice banana? The blue java fruit requires a little careful handling, but it will be well worth your effort and time.
You will know that the blue java fruit is ripe as soon as the blue hue is gone from the banana peel, leaving only a mild yellow hue. The petals on the end of the banana will dry and turn crispy, which means the banana is ready to be picked. Often times, those on top of the pile will be the first to ripen, but once they're done you should harvest the whole pile.
Have a friend ready to hold onto the pile that has some weight. Cut the real stem above the bundle, then carefully lower it to the ground. Go through and cut off each and every hand with a sharp knife. Be careful not to damage the skin of any of your java bananas.
The top bananas in a pile are usually the ones you need to eat first. The rest will ripen slowly over time, but like all bananas, the blue Java banana ripens pretty quickly after harvest. You will suddenly switch from unripe bananas to all ripe ones at once!
Because of its sticky texture, the easiest way to keep these for a longer period of time is to skin them and keep the fruit in the freezer. You can leave it whole or crush it into a paste if you wish. When crushed into a paste, a scoop of the frozen pulp can be used as a substitute for real ice cream, making it a delicious natural treat.
What problems are likely to occur with your ice cream plants? Let's talk about it!
A variety of pests can appear and annoy you and your banana plant.
Piercing insects like that Banana aphid and Spider mite are common. These suck the juice from the fronds, and banana aphids can also spread disease. Both can be treated with neem oil, although large breakouts may require something like pyrethrin.
Mealybugs will make a home on the leaves too. Small breakouts can be removed with a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to force the release. Use insecticidal soap to treat larger breakouts.
Two kinds of Thrips, Banana rust thrips and Cork scab thripsGo for bananas of all kinds. Both of them can cause serious damage, although the rust droplets go after the leaves and peel of the banana while the scab droplets go after the fruit itself. Use pyrethrin to control this.
The Coquito, also called Scar beetle with banana fruitsattacks the fruit directly, as the name suggests. Use sticky traps to catch adult bugs.
Root node nematodes can cause a real problem for your plant's rhizome. Apply beneficial nematodes to treat both these and the Coquito larvae.
Finally we come to black weevils, also called Banana stick drill. These will cause great damage to your plant, and pyrethrin should be used to get rid of them.
The worst disease for any type of banana is Fusarium oxysporum. This fungal pathogen causes the dreaded Panama disease or Bananas wither and is deadly to your plant. Drooping fronds and yellowed leaves eventually lead to the death of the plants. There is no cure for this disease and it can be transmitted through wind, water, infected soil, or uncleaned tools. When you encounter this, not only do you have to destroy your plant, but you also don't have to plant another banana in the same soil. It wiped out whole varieties of bananas.
Two kinds of Leaf spot, Sigatoka and black leaf stripe, can appear on your plants. Fortunately, both are treatable with a liquid copper fungicide.
Banana aphids often spread Banana Bunchy Top Disease. This disease causes the leaves to curl upwards and the plant to develop narrower leaves. The leaves can also become brittle and stiff over time. There is no treatment, but aphid prevention will keep your plant from getting them.
After all, there is a burden of Mosaic virus especially for the banana. As with all mosaic virus strains, there is no treatment for it. In this case, it causes streaked leaves and fruits. Destroy infected plants.
frequently asked Questions
A young blue Java banana plant with a man for size comparison. Source: Bigisbetter
Q: are blue java bananas real?
A: Definitely! If it hadn't, this article would never have been written.
Q: Can you grow Java blue bananas in the UK?
A: Unfortunately, you will likely want to grow them in a dedicated greenhouse in the UK. As they grow, you probably won't get a lot of fruit in the cooler environment.
Q: How do blue Java bananas taste?
A: Custard is the most common comparison. It also has a banana flavor, but it has distinct notes of vanilla.
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