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A grove of mature How to grow Musa balbisiana 'Atia Black' bananas
How to grow Musa Balbisiana 'Atia Black'

The original species of what is commonly known as the Thai Black Banana - Musa balbisiana, is a species native to eastern South Asia, northern Southeast Asia, and southern China. It is considered to be an inedible form due to the large amount of seeds within its fruit, however it is generally believed to have been part of the diet of local inhabitants as (along with Musa acuminata) it was used in the cultivation of one of the ancestors of modern cultivated bananas. It was first described for western science in 1820 by the Italian botanist Luigi Aloysius Colla (1766 –  1848)

Musa Balbisiana 'Atia Black' is a clump forming cultivar which under favourable conditions can reach a height of 5 metres. It has an upright habit and is particularly noted for its very striking dark stems and dark-green paddle-shaped leaves. When exposed to direct sunlight the stems darken further to almost black! Where conditions are suitable you can expect red to maroon to emerge which once pollinated are followed by large, blue to green coloured fruits.

How to grow Musa balbisiana 'Atia Black'

When growing in the cooler climates of northern Europe plant in a sheltered position which will receive as much sunlight throughout the day as possible. It will perform best in a rich, moist, well-drained soil. Additional watering will be required during periods of drought and a liquid fertiliser can be applied every week or so. Surprisingly it is arguably one of the most cold-hardy banana cultivars capable of tolerating frosts. If winter protection in required, cut of all the leaves to the crown and wrap in a dry mulch (such as straw or hay) and secure with chicken wire. In fact there is anecdotal evidence that the root system of Musa Balbisiana 'Atia Black' can survive temperatures down to as low as -9 degrees Celsius.

In the milder climates a couple of layers of horticultural fleece will be suffice in all but the severest winters. Just remember that the leaves will still need to be removed to reduce the incidence of fungal rots taking hold.

To limit its size you can grow Musa Balbisiana 'Atia Black' as a container plant using as large a pot as you can effectively move with causing injury to yourself. Use a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No. 3', watering and fertilizing regularly over the growing period. As it is no longer in the ground the root system will be at a greater risk of freezing if left outside during harsh winters and so bring it in under protection until the risk of late frosts have passed.


Commonly known as the Darjeeling Banana, Musa sikkimensis is one of the most popular of all the ornamental forms within the genus, as well as being one of the most widely cultivated. While the true species displays yellow-green foliage like most other banana plants, they are an number of stunning colour morphs which place cultivars such as Musa Sikkimensis 'Red Tiger'.

Young purple striped green leaves of Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger'
Musa sikkimensis 'Red Tiger'
Native to both Bhutan and India, Musa sikkimensis is one of the highest altitude banana species. This has benefits for UK gardeners as it is arguably the hardiest species behind Musa basjoo and Ensete lasiocarpa.

Seed is relatively easy find in both good plant retailers and online seed specialists, just buy as fresh as you can to achieve the best rates of germination.

Before sowing your seeds soak for 24 hours in warm water. Then using a seed tray or large modular tray, fill with a good quality seed compost such as John Innes ‘Seed and Potting’. Using a dibber sow the Musa Sikkimensis seed ¼in deep, then backfill the hole with a little more compost. Water thoroughly, but allow the excess water to drain away before placing the tray in a heated propagator or sealing inside a clear polythene bag and placing in a warm bright area. If using a heated propagator set the temperature of around 28 degrees Celsius. Be aware that the germination of Musa Sikkimensis can be slow and erratic taking between 1-6 months to germinate.

Keep the compost moist but not waterlogged and once germinated improve ventilation as fungal infections can take hold on both the foliage and the root system.

Once the root system has established the seedlings can be potted on into 9cm pots and allowed to grow on in a warm, frost free position. Water well during the growing season and feed with a liquid soluble fertiliser every couple of weeks.

Main image credit - By Daderot - Own work, CC0,