If you are trying to get experience growing tropical fruit indoors, banana trees are one of the easiest fruits to start with. Banana trees are easy to grow, come in dwarf sizes perfect for container-growing, are relatively inexpensive, and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.

And for those who have exhausted their interest in the banana tree but still want those same benefits, there’s more to explore: growing dwarf plantains is the next step on the potted fruit tree list.

Growing dwarf plantains offers northern gardeners all the same benefits of growing potted banana trees, with the extra bonus for being unique! Banana trees are starting to grow in popularity, but that fame hasn’t quite caught on yet for the humble plantain tree, and if you live in a northern gardening zone, you will almost certainly be the only person in your community to have this tree on your patio.

What are Plantain Trees?

Although it looks like a large, underripe banana, the plantain belongs in a category all its own. This lesser-known relative of the banana is actually found down a different branch of the musa family tree – although it is a hybridized relative that shares common ancestors with the sweeter, squishier banana we’re all familiar with.

For those not familiar with the plantain, no, I’m not talking about the broad-leafed low-growing weed that can be found in lawns throughout North America. Don’t be confused by internet search engines that tailor search results to match your gardening zone – make sure you are searching for the fruit, not the weed!

Like the banana, the plantain is technically not a botanical tree. We call it a tree because of its size, not because of its growth habit.

Botanically, the plantain is considered more of an herb. This plant grows thick, meaty leaves that are tightly packed in the center “trunk” and which unfurl at the top of the plant to give the classic tropical shape.

(Or, for those of us that live in farmer country… think of the plantain like a super-thick cornstalk that has no leaves branching out except at the very top. It’s basically the same concept.)

What Is Plantain Fruit Like?

The musa plantain is a fruit that looks like the banana but is typically jumbo-sized and significantly firmer.

It’s not sweet enough to encourage fresh eating (although it won’t poison you, either), and instead of starchy and more suited to consumption in a hearty meal than a dessert.

You can cook it a thousand different ways; baked, fried, boiled, grilled, dried, even mixed into juices. The fruit is often compared to a potato – so get ready for plantain chips, flour, fritters, and more! In some areas of the globe, the plantain fruit is considered a staple, as it provides lots of carb-based calories.

Many plantains are pretty bitter, although certain varieties have sweeter taste than others. Definitely read the plant description before purchasing!

Are There Any Dwarf Plantain Trees for Growing in Pots?


However, you can expect a much smaller selection of dwarf plantains than you will for dwarf banana trees.

Unlike the banana, which is wildly popular and comes in many different colors, shapes and sizes (you can grow yellow, red, blue, and even pink bananas!), the plantain isn’t popular enough yet to create a demand for more than a few cultivars.

Most commonly, I see the Puerto Rican Dwarf Plantain tree sold for container-growing. This is a culinary-friendly banana with better taste and texture than many other plantain varieties.

How Big Does a Dwarf Plantain Tree Grow?

This is a wee bit of a problem for some windowsill gardeners. Yes, a dwarf plantain tree is much smaller than your typical plantain…

…however, you also have to realize that in natural growing conditions, a non-dwarf plantain can reach anywhere from 15-30 feet tall. That’s one big tree, so don’t expect a dwarf to be itty-bitty!

The Puerto Rican Dwarf Plantain, while MUCH smaller than other varieties, can still reach up to 8 feet tall. You can control this height to some extent by keeping the tree in a smaller pot, but be aware that cramping its growth will also affect any possibility of fruit production.

I’m not saying it’s impossible, but every tropical tree that you uproot and plant in a container for indoor-growth is already under stress. Putting additional pressure on your plantain tree by restricting its growth probably won’t do you any favors.

What Growing Conditions do Plantains Need?

Plantains are so rarely they are far less popular for home-growing – and particularly windowsill growing! – than their banana cousins, so you probably won’t find a local nursery that can give you specialized advice.

However, plantains are so closely related to the dessert banana that their growing conditions, common problems, and environmental needs are almost identical. To keep your plantain alive and happy on your windowsill, build your knowledge on how to grow bananas indoors, and almost all the same information will apply.

Do be aware that unlike bananas, some plantains are likely to leave sap stains from the peel or broken leaves (which is important to note, since split leaves is a common but easily-addressed problem with banana trees and other musa plants whether these plants are grown indoors in pots, or outside in the ground). That is not a caveat enough to stop me from wanting to grow this oddity, but just be aware in case it’s a deal-breaker for you!

Where Can I Learn More About Growing Bananas?

There are many resources available, so if you are in a northern zone where any bananas or plantains have to be grown in pots, I recommend checking out a library book or an extension website.

(In these locations, checking with your local ag-extension is less likely to help you out, which is why e-searching for a southern state’s extension resources might do better. I’m not saying northern-state extensions don’t have that knowledge… but it’s probably far less of a priority than it is for cold-hardy trees!)

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