Blue Java Banana: The Ice Cream Banana Plant

Ice cream banana? It sounds almost 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 while on the plant, but ripens into a creamy yellow color. And did I mention that it tastes like vanilla ice cream?

Slightly gooey in comparison to other banana types, these are rapidly gaining popularity 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’re pretty amazing even if you just want a tropical paradise in your yard. The flower is astounding, and the fact that you get fresh fruit from it so much the better. So let’s talk about the ice cream banana plant and how to care for it!

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Quick Care Guide

Blue Java Banana
Before they’re ripe, the blue java banana has a bluish tinge to its fruit. Source: Starr
Common Name(s)Blue java banana, ice cream banana, Hawaiian banana, blue banana
Scientific NameMusa acuminata x Musa balbisiana, ABB group
Days to Harvest115-150 days from flowering
LightFull sun
Water:Consistent, every 1-2 days
SoilWell-draining, pH 5.5-7.0, free from fusarium
Fertilizer8-10-8 to 10-10-10 for growth, 10-10-15 for fruiting
PestsAphids, spider mites, thrips, root knot nematodes, coquito, mealybugs, black weevils
DiseasesLeaf spot, Panama disease, banana bunchy top disease, banana mosaic virus

All About Blue Java Banana

All edible bananas are hybrids of two species: Musa acuminata and Musa balbisiana. These are classified into groups that reference either Musa acuminata or M. balbisiana by using A or B. Three letters are used to indicate how much of each species is present in the hybrid.

Blue java bananas are part of the ABB group. They take one set of chromosomes from Musa acuminata and two from Musa balbisiana.

Musa acuminata is more commonly known as the Cavendish banana, or any number of Cavendish-related cultivars thereof. They’re a dessert banana species. Musa balbisiana is the species used most commonly for cooking bananas such as plantains. So it’s interesting that such a gooey and rich dessert banana would come from that stock!

Still, with Musa acuminata in the lineage of the ABB group, the blue java banana does get a delicious dessert flavor. It’s often called the ice cream banana because they taste like ice cream. It’s reputed to be a vanilla custard type of flavor, and definitely worth eating!

Blue java bananas grow, as all bananas do, from a rhizomatic corm. This base extends about 18” into the ground before producing roots. The rhizome produces one main stalk called the false stem that forms the “trunk” of the banana “tree”. This stalk is actually a cylinder of tightly-packed banana leaves that grow directly up from the corm. 

When the blue java banana is about to fruit, it sends up a thick stem called the true stem. This grows through the center of the main stalk and then out, hanging off to one side. It is on this true stem that a single large flower will develop. Each petal will gradually peel back and form a shade for the small collection of banana flowers underneath.

Those are what eventually become the fruit. As they grow, they’re 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 that the plant can focus on its fruit.

Ice cream banana plant can take 15-24 months after planting to put up its first main stem. Around the outside of the blue java plant, more offshoots or “pups” will form from the corm. Once the fruit turns yellow and ripe, the false stem can be cut back to the corm, and one of these new pups can take over for the next growth spurt.

While there are many dwarf banana species, this is not one of them. In California they average 12-15 feet tall, and in tropical regions can reach heights of 20 feet.

Blue Java Banana Care

Ice cream banana leaves
The banana leaves are long and very large. Source: Starr

Caring for them is pretty easy as long as you give them the right start. Read through to figure out the best conditions for your plant!

Sun and Temperature

You’ll definitely want to provide full sun conditions for your banana trees. They prefer 8-12 hours of sunlight a day. While they can tolerate partial shade, they just won’t grow as vigorously. So be sure your bananas get ample amounts of sunlight.

Blue java bananas are much more cold tolerant than other banana varieties. In fact, they’re so cold tolerant that they can survive with a protective wrap down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit. That’ much, much colder than other bananas can take! 

Still, it’s best not to test their cold tolerant status too much. They perform best in USDA growing zones 9-10, but can grow in zones 8-11. If you have a location that tends to stay between 50-90 degrees during the daytime and that rarely drops below 30 degrees, your blue java should thrive. It’s tolerant of heat as well, taking 100-degree days like a champ if well-watered.

Water and Humidity

All bananas love water. You’ll find these tropicals to be thirsty! However, they don’t tolerate standing water anywhere near as well. Ensure your soil is very well-draining and that it doesn’t pool up around the plant during rain.  If you’d prefer, place a soaker hose around the base and allow it to do a long, deep soaking.

Water deeply on a daily or every-other-day basis. During the summer, it’s likely to be daily. The rest of the year, skip watering if it rains significantly, and water every other day if it hasn’t been raining. 

Like most tropicals, your blue java enjoys some ambient humidity. While it can survive in lower humidity ranges, a 50% humidity level is just about perfect.

Soil

Good drainage is essential for growing bananas, particularly the blue java. Like most other banana trees, its root system is susceptible to fungal pathogens like pythium that cause root rot. It’s also susceptible to fusarium. Both of these tend to develop in overly-wet soil, so make sure it drains extremely well.

Start with a sterile soil blend when possible to avoid soilborne fusarium. If it’s not possible, consider solarizing your soil months before planting to reduce risk. 

If you’re blending your own potting mix, try to make sure about 20% of it is made up of perlite or other drainage aids. Use coconut coir, peat moss, or even some worm castings to provide water retention. Good quality compost is another great ingredient. If you’re adding soil, try to provide loamy or sandy soil rather than clay types.

Blue java bananas prefer the soil pH to be between 5.5-7.0. That neutral to slightly-acidic range is where they’ll grow best.

Fertilizing

Try to use a high-phosphorous fertilizer for initial growth. An 8-10-8 or balanced 10-10-10 will work. Younger plants should be somewhat diluted, at roughly 65-75% strength. If you’re using a granular fertilizer, just apply a little less for a young banana than you would an older one.

Once the tree is old enough to fruit, swap to a high-potassium fertilizer when it starts to put out its true stem. Aim for a 10-10-15 or 10-10-20. This will promote fruiting.

Don’t fertilize in the winter, as the plant will be dormant at that time.

Pruning

Blue java banana with flower
The upper part of an ice cream banana plant with a single flower stalk. Source: Starr

One of the best things about growing blue bananas is that they’re a minimal-pruning plant. Yes, there is some pruning required, but it’s pretty simple.

Around the base of the adult stalk, pups or suckers will form. These will become the next fruiting part of the banana plant, so be careful not to remove all of them. But the weaker ones should be removed to allow the plant to focus its energy on the more vigorous and healthy ones. Start selecting vigorous ones to stay once the current false stem is six months into its growth.

When possible, only remove leaves when they’ve yellowed or browned on their own. Leaves that are starting to shrivel usually loosen their grasp on the main stem, and they’re easily pulled off the plant at that point. If you can’t pull it off easily, leave it in place.

Once the adult stalk has produced its true stem and has finished fruiting, there’s one additional task that needs to be done. The adult stalk will only produce a single harvest of fruit, and after that should be cut back to the corm so that one of the pups can take over for the next year. Be careful when doing this so as to avoid damaging the young plants.

When pruning, always use sterilized loppers or pruning shears. This reduces the risk of transmitting plant diseases.

Fruiting

When the first flower appears, be sure to leave any leaves directly above it on the true stem. That shades the flower from the direct sun and aids in fruit production.

As each flower petal begins to peel away from the main bud, it reveals a hand of tiny bananas. Once they’ve all appeared, the full stalk with its entire load of bananas is referred to as a bunch. If possible, use a bag made of floating row cover material to cover the bunch loosely to protect your fruit from pest damage.

Your bananas will continue to form and enlarge underneath the fabric. They develop a beautiful blue tint as they grow, but eventually will turn yellow. When the flower’s petals stop peeling upward to reveal more bananas, it’s unlikely the rest of the bananas will form.

You can secure the base of your fabric bag just above the remains of the flower, and loosely attach it to the top portion of the true stem above the bunch. Leave some slack to allow room for the bananas to develop.

Due to the weight of the bunch of bananas as they form, you’ll want to provide extra support to the true stem. A board with a U-shaped cutout provides a good, easy-to-use prop that can help reinforce the stem against all that weight.

Propagation

Blue java seeds are notoriously unreliable, and that’s if you ever see them at all. Most of the plants in cultivation have been hybridized so deeply that they seldom produce seed in the first place, and most of that is sterile. Those rare ones that do produce potentially viable seed have very low germination rates.

So it’s best to opt for either purchasing a plant developed from tissue culture, or to carefully divide off a pup from the corm of the blue java plant. It’s a bit of a tricky process, as you don’t want to damage the corm too severely, but if you’re careful you should be able to cut through the corm and transfer the pup to a new location.

Harvesting and Storing

Baby blue java bananas forming
Baby blue java bananas beginning to take shape. Source: Starr

How does one harvest an ice cream banana? The blue java fruit requires a little bit of careful handling, but it’s going to be well worth your effort and time.

Harvesting

You’ll know the blue java fruit is ripe once the blue tint has faded away from the banana peel, leaving only a mellow yellow tone. The petals at the end of the banana will dry and turn crisp, signifying that the banana is ready to harvest. Often, the ones at the top of the bunch will be the first to ripen, but once they’re ready, you should harvest the whole bunch.

Have a friend on hand to grab onto the bunch, which will have some weight to it. Cut through the true stem above the bunch, then gently lower the bunch down to the ground. Go through and use a sharp knife to cut off each individual hand, being careful not to damage the skin of each of your java bananas.

Storing

The topmost bananas in a bunch will usually be the ones you’ll need to eat first. The rest will slowly ripen over time, but like all bananas, the blue java banana will ripen pretty quickly once harvested. You’ll suddenly go from no ripe bananas to all of them ripe at once!

Due to its gooey texture, the easiest way to store these is for long periods of time is to skin them and store the fruit in the freezer. You can leave it whole or mash it into a paste as desired. If mashed into a paste, a scoop of the frozen pulp can be used to substitute for real ice cream, making it a delicious natural treat.

Troubleshooting

What problems are likely to appear for your ice cream plants? Let’s talk about that!

Pests

An array of pests can appear and annoy you and your banana plant.

Piercing insects like the banana aphid and spider mite are common. These suck the sap out of the fronds, and banana aphids can also spread diseases. Both can be treated with neem oil, although large outbreaks may require something like pyrethrin.

Mealybugs will make a home on the leaves as well. Small outbreaks can be removed by using a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to force them to release. Use insecticidal soap to handle larger outbreaks.

Two types of thrips, banana rust thrips and corky scab thrips, go after bananas of all sorts. Both can cause severe damage, although the rust thrips go after the leaves and skins of the bananas while the scab thrips go after the fruit itself. Use pyrethrin to control these.

The coquito, also called the banana fruit scarring beetle, attacks the fruit directly as the name might suggest. Use sticky traps to catch adult beetles.

Root knot nematodes can cause a real problem for the rhizome of your plant. Apply beneficial nematodes to deal with both these and the coquito larvae.

Finally, we come to black weevils, also called banana stalk borers. These cause major damage to your plant, and pyrethrin should be used to eliminate them.

Diseases

The worst disease for any banana species is fusarium oxysporum. This fungal pathogen causes the dreaded Panama disease or banana wilt and is lethal to your plant. Drooping fronds and yellowing leaves lead eventually to plant death. There is no cure for this disease, and it can be transmitted by wind, water, infected soil, or uncleaned tools. If you encounter it, you will need to not only destroy your plant, but not plant another banana in the same soil. It has wiped out entire strains of bananas.

Two types of leaf spot, sigatoka and black leaf streak, can appear on your plants. Thankfully both of these are treatable with a liquid copper fungicide.

Banana aphids frequently spread banana bunchy top disease. This disease causes leaves to curl upward and the plant may develop more narrow leaves. Leaves can become brittle and stiff over time as well. There is no treatment, but prevention of aphids will prevent your plant from getting it.

Finally, there is a strain of mosaic virus specifically for the banana. Like all mosaic virus strains, there is no treatment for it. In this case, it causes streaked leaves and fruit. Destroy infected plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

A young ice cream banana tree
A young blue java banana plant with a man for size comparison. Source: bigisbetter

Q: Are blue java bananas real?
A: Absolutely! If they weren’t, this article would never have been written.

Q: Can you grow blue java bananas in UK?

A: Unfortunately, you’ll probably want to consider growing them in a specialized greenhouse in the UK. While they will grow, you probably won’t get much fruit in the cooler environment.

Q: What do blue java bananas taste like?

A: Vanilla custard is the most common comparison. It has a banana flavor as well, but it distinctly has vanilla notes.


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