Dwarf Cavendish Banana Plant

Overview

Dwarf Cavendish cultivars are the bananas frequently used in international trade. They resist fungus and produce a high yield. At 6 feet tall, they are relatively short, and support fruit without propping. By 2000, trade value was US$5 billion annually. India is the largest producer and, along with Ecuador, China, Columbia and Costa Rica provides half the market.

Discovery

In 1826, Irish physician Charles Telfair discovered the Dwarf Cavendish in China and introduced it to his garden on Mauritius in the Indian Ocean. In 1829, Telfair sent clones to his friend Robert Barclay, a Southwark (London) brewer, for greenhouses at Bury Hill, Barclay's country house near Dorking, Surrey. At Barclay's estate sale in 1830, one plant was purchased for the Duke of Devonshire's seat at Chatsworth, Derbyshire, where gardener Joseph Paxton induced it to fruit.

Samoa

In 1838, John Williams of the London Missionary Society introduced not only Christianity to Samoa, but also Dwarf Cavendish, provided by the Duke of Devonshire. Williams thought the banana had died en route, so he discarded it. Another missionary, Mr. Mill, retrieved the corm and planted it. From Samoa, missionaries and Dwarf Cavendish island-hopped across the South Pacific. In 1855, Dwarf Cavendish reached Hawaii from Tahiti, and arrived in Australia and New Guinea in the same decade.

Reinking and Popenoe

Dwarf Cavendish mutants were planted in Central America during the 20th century. Explorer and tropical botanist O.A. Reinking discovered Valery cultivar in the 1920s at Saigon Botanical Garden. Valery was among 134 bananas Reinking sent to United Fruit Company's greenhouses in Panama, where they were ignored. In 1930, Reinking's collection moved to Lancetilla Gardens in Honduras, established by plant explorer Wilson Popenoe and the United Fruit Company. In the 1960s, Valery became one of the two international trade bananas.

Chiquita and Dole

In 1950, United Fruit (now Chiquita) controlled 80% of US banana imports with its Gros Michel variety. New Orleans importer Standard Fruit (now Dole) was mismanaged and near bankruptcy. New management at Standard Fruit replaced Gros Michel with Dwarf Cavendish, which is resistant to Panama Disease (Fusarium fungus), resistant to wind and higher yielding. Thin-skinned Cavendish requires boxing in the field before shipment, so United Fruit delayed change until 1958, when they introduced Lacatan Cavendish cultivar to Panama from Trinidad. Their transplants were worm-infested and productivity declined. By 1973, Standard Fruit led market share, at 43.4%.

Future

Like other grasses, bananas have a pseudostem of leaf sheaths and a flower-bearing true stem. In bananas, the flowers produce sterile fruit and the plant reproduces by sprouting from corms at ground level. Each banana plant is a clone of its parent. Recent Dwarf Cavendish mutants, such as Grandnain, go further. They are micropropagated in vitro in sterile laboratories, where their potential performance in the field (phenotype) is monitored. Despite that, in 2010, conventional propagation planted most fields worldwide.

Keywords: Dwarf Cavendish, Charles Telfair, David Cameron, Joseph Paxton, O.A. Reinking, Wilson Popenoe

About this Author

Sara Kirchheimer holds a Bachelor of Science in physical geography from Arizona State University and is currently retired from the transportation and travel industry in Northern Europe and the Western United States. In addition to commercial writing, she has contributed art exhibit reviews to Phoenix Arts and hurricane update articles to New Orleans Indymedia.