Are you confused about whether or not banana trees are actual palm trees?
While banana trees are often referred to as palm trees, the truth is they are not part of the same family and they are not technically considered the same. However, they do belong to the same Super Order Lilianae. According to experts, a banana tree is closer to a huge herb than a tree.
In this article, I’ll dive deeper into the main differences between a banana tree and a palm tree, and explain what kind of a plant the banana ‘tree’ really is.
Are you ready? Let’s jump in!
Are Banana Trees Palm Trees?
As I mentioned above, banana trees aren’t palm trees. As these guys stand tall, upright, and quite steady, we often miscategorize them as woody trees. However, that’s far from what the science says. They’re large herbaceous plants with the scientific name Musa and a flowering plant family Musaceae.
They’re distantly related to ginger, galangal, and turmeric since they grow with an above-ground pseudostem (literally meaning: ‘fake stem’). Their actual stem is underground, but unlike ginger, we don’t grow bananas for their root but for their fruit.
|Banana Tree||Ginger||Palm Tree|
|Super Order: Lilianae|
Super Order: Lilianae
|Super Order: Lilianae|
As you can see bananas are closer to ginger than palm trees. However, they come from the same super-order of monocots, and because of that, both banana and palm trees lack the woody stem that true trees have.
What Plants Look Like a Banana Tree?
I should also clarify that not all the plants that look like banana trees are banana trees. Watch out for these banana plant cousins that look similar but aren’t quite the same.
This beautiful plant belongs to the same order as the banana tree but to a different family. The leaves are similar to banana tree leaves that sometimes turn into ivory or pink colors. You can recognize this plant by its flowers that look like a ‘hanging lobster claw’. The flowers, however, never produce edible banana fruits.
- Traveler’s Tree
The leaves of this plant look almost like banana leaves on steroids, meaning – they’re much larger and grow arranged in the shape of a fan at the top of the trunk. It really looks like a palm and a banana tree mixed together, but the truth is that it is neither. It belongs to the Strelitziaceae family and it’s closer to the banana tree for belonging to the same order (Zingiberales).
Wonder why is it called the Traveler’s tree? The legend has it that thirsty travelers who ran out of water used this tree for emergency drinking. They took the juicy part of the leaf bases to get water and stay hydrated on their way.
- White Bird of Paradise
The white bird of paradise is a specie of banana-like plant with stems reaching a height of 7–8 m (23–26 ft). Naturally, it has leaves very similar to those of the Traveler’s tree, because they belong to the same family.
You’ll find wild plantations of these mainly in the evergreen coastal forest of eastern South Africa.
Banana Trees vs Palm Trees: Differences & Similarities
Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of distinguishing between palms and banana trees.
Banana tree height and width
Banana plants vary in height from 3m (10ft) to 7m (23ft) with the majority of them being around 5m (16ft) high. The leaves grow arranged in spirals up to 2.7m (8.9ft) long and 60cm (2.0ft) wide.
Palm tree height and width
While there are over 2600 species of palm trees, the Areca family palms normally grow between 10m (32ft) to 15m (49ft) tall, with some of them reaching even 30m (98ft) in height. The leaves are pinnate, up to 6m (19ft) long, and 1.5m to 2m (6ft) wide.
Banana tree uses
- Sustainable packaging
- You can use the stem fibers as a natural craft material
- The leaves can be used as natural leaf platters
- Steamed banana leaves are a great way to pack your lunch in an eco-friendly way
Palm tree uses
- Sustainable food packaging material
- Natural constructive material for house walls, rafters, and roofing
- Garden fencing
- Natural fabric production
- Nutritional feed for livestock
Bananas originated in the tropical parts of India, Southeast Asia, and northern Australia. After discovering America, the Portuguese brought them to South America to the ‘New World’. Since then, their cultivation has now spread to more than 150 countries around the world.
The majority of palms are native to tropical and subtropical climates. You’ll find the most variety of palms in wet, lowland forests in South America, the Caribbean, and areas of the South Pacific and southern Asia are regions of concentration.
Is It a Palm Tree or Is It a Banana Tree?
Now that we’ve covered all the details, here’s a quick checklist for you to be able to differentiate them instantly.
You can tell it’s a banana tree based on these characteristics:
- The plant can grow bananas once a year
- It doesn’t have an actual trunk but a pseudostem
- A fruit-bearing stem with clusters of flowers turning into green bananas – this stem dies back after the growing season.
If it’s a palm, it will probably look like this:
- Palms have long unbranched ‘trunks’
- The leaves are only at the top of the trunk
- Their height can differ from small to even palm ‘skyscrapers’
- They can grow tiny flowers & some fruits (but no bananas)
Palms, trees, and herbs are all extremely diverse and sometimes it can be shocking to discover your favorite fruit palm is actually a giant herb. The banana tree is not a palm tree, but they do belong to the same super-order. They are monocots and their trunk is not made of wood like real trees.