Musa cavendishii

Musa cavendishii
A. B. Lambert (1836).
Musa cavendishii J. Paxton, Magazine of Botany 3: 51 (1837).
Musa cavendishii A. B. Lambert ex J. Paxton, Magazine of Botany 3: 51 (1837)

Accepted name Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish'


Musa acuminata L. A. Colla, Memoria sul genere Musa e monografia del Medesimo : 66 (1820) and E. E. Cheesman, Kew Bulletin 3 (1): 22 (1948).

Synonyms 1. Musa acuminata L. A. Colla
2. Musa nana J. de Loureiro (name accepted by Burkill and at Mobot VAST database and at WCM)
3. Musa nana auct. non J. de Loureiro
4. Musa chinensis R. Sweet
5. Musa sinensis P. A. Sagot ex J. G. Baker
6. Musa sinensis P. A. Sagot
7. Musa sinensis R. Sweet ex P. A. Sagot
Authorities The accepted name is from Stover & Simmonds.

Synonym references are as follows: 1 is from Argent, Griffiths, GRIN, Hotta 1989; 2 is from Stover & Simmonds (although Burkill treats this as the accepted name and so does Mobot VAST database and WCM), 3 and 4 are inferred via Griffiths, Huxley; 4 also from Index Kewensis, 5 is from ?, 6 is from Mobot VAST database; 7 is from Stover & Simmonds.

The World Checklist of Monocotyledons lists Musa cavendishii Lamb., Paxton's Mag. Bot. 3: 51 (1837) as a synonym and Musa nana Lour., Fl. Cochinch.: 644 (1790) as an accepted name.

Distribution Originally from China now pantropical.
Description Whole plant 4 - 6 ft. high. Trunk 2 - 3 ft. long, suckering. Leaves 6 - 8 very close together, spreading, 2 - 3 ft. long, much rounded at the base, rather glaucous; stalk short, deeply channelled. Inflorescence dense, short, drooping. Bracts red-brown or dark; male flowers and their bracts persistent. Perianth yellowish white, an inch long, with five obtuse lobes; free petal about half as long. Fruits as many as 200 to 250 in the bunch, oblong, six-angled, slightly curved, 4 - 5 in. long, above 1½ in. in diameter; seedless, edible, with a rather thick skin and delicate fragrant flesh.

(Fawcett, 1913).

References Argent 1984, Bloemenbureau Holland, Burkill 1935, Champion 1967 : 39, Fawcett 1913 : 265, Flora Guandong : 394, Griffiths 1994, GRIN, Häkkinen and Väre 2008, Hotta 1989, Huxley 1992, Index Kewensis, Mobot Tropicos, Reynolds 1927, Stover & Simmonds 1987 : 96 & 115.
Comments Since this is derived exclusively from Musa acuminata it is appropriate to give that as the accepted name although less useful than Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish'.

The complexity of the nomenclature (not fully resolved here) of this familiar plant is due mainly to the fact that 'Dwarf Cavendish' never was a single clone but is a group of clones. Dwarfism is the commonest somatic mutation and as pointed out by Stover & Simmonds (p. 115) "the 'Dwarf Cavendish' must have had numerous origins by mutation from taller members of the Cavendish group..".

In the literature the name Musa cavendishii appears in a number of variations:

1. Musa cavendishii A. B. Lambert quoted for example in Stover & Simmonds 1987 and the Flora of Guandong.
2. Musa cavendishii J. Paxton quoted for example in Argent 1984
3. Musa cavendishii A. B. Lambert ex J. Paxton quoted for example in Huxley 1992 or at Mobot Tropicos.

A further variation seen in the literature is that the specific epithet cavendishii may or may not be capitalised. It should not be. These are all the same plant and the reason for the alternative forms of the name lies somewhere in the story of the European 'discovery' of the plant. The following is based on the account of the Cavendish banana published by William Fawcett in 1921 (not seen) and re-told by Reynolds.

"In 1826 a gentleman named Charles Telfair, resident in Mauritius, was the first to obtain plants of this 'species' from its native country, Southern China; he considered it the most valuable specimen in his extensive collection. In 1829 Telfair sent to England two plants to a friend of his, a Mr Barclay of Burryhill. [I'm not sure where this is, Burryhill is not in a modern gazetteer. Possibly the name has changed to Burrowhill, a town in Surrey.] On the death of Mr Barclay, one of these two plants was purchased by the Duke of Devonshire and fruited in his private gardens at Chatsworth near Bakewell in Derbyshire. At this time, in 1836, Aylmer Bourke Lambert exhibited at a meeting of the Linnean Society a copy of an old Chinese drawing which he believed referred to the same 'species' and named it Musa Cavendishii in honour of the Duke of Devonshire whose family name was Cavendish. In the Magazine of Botany for 1837, Joseph Paxton, a gentleman associated with the private gardens of the Duke of Devonshire gives a coloured plate [below] and a description of this plant and adopts the name given it by A. B. Lambert."

If you believe Lambert to have published the name validly the correct construction is Musa cavendishii A. B. Lambert.

If you believe Lambert did not publish the name validly, and should therefore be ignored, but that Paxton did publish validly the correct construction is Musa cavendishii J. Paxton.

If you believe that Lambert did not publish the name validly but that Paxton's publication validates the name given by Lambert the correct construction is Musa cavendishii A. B. Lambert ex J. Paxton.

The difficulty of deciding on the correct construction of the Linnaean name is avoided by adopting as the accepted name Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish' as I have done above. Why?

In the 1950's Simmonds and Shepherd recognised that cultivated bananas like 'Dwarf Cavendish' were so far removed from their original species that they could not usefully be assigned Linnean binomials. Simmonds & Shepherd proposed an alternate system for nomenclature of cultivated bananas and plantains based on the genomic constitution of the plants.

For a description of Simmonds and Shepherd's system click here.

Despite Simmonds and Shepherd's valid, elegant, simple and above all informative nomenclature system, the application of what are effectively spurious or, at least, mis-applied latinised names is still widespread even in recent and, supposedly, authoritative publications. Where their use has been devalued if not actually discredited, the tendency to cling to Linnean binomials as the only mechanism with which to fix a plant in the botanical or horticultural firmament seems to me to be plain unhelpful. And attempts to crowbar plants artificially into species categories either misleads us or leaves us (and sometimes apparently the author) thoroughly confused. A couple of examples:

  • Argent, Griffiths, GRIN and Hotta all offer us Musa acuminata as a synonym of Musa cavendishii (or vice versa). In the light of Simmonds & Shepherd this surely cannot be justified. Musa cavendishii is a seedless triploid derived from diploid, seeded Musa acuminata but it is not that plant.
  • In a woeful example of plain error and confabulation Huxley 1992 informs us that 'Dwarf Cavendish', among other desert bananas, is a form either of "...Musa x paradisiacum (sic) or Musa troglodytarum ...". This mistake is thankfully not repeated in Griffiths 1994, derived from Huxley, but, as mentioned above, neither is it properly corrected.

There are many cultivated forms, clones, of Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish' grown for ornament in Europe. Their number has proliferated in recent years as a result of imports from commercial micropropagation laboratories in India. Each laboratory has made their own selections of the 'Dwarf Cavendish' cultivars 'Basrai' and 'Srimanti' to differentiate their products from competitors in the domestic market. Although these selections were all made for fruit quality and yield, some of these plants find their way into European horticulture, mainly via Holland, as ornamental pot plants. Other clones of 'Dwarf Cavendish' also arrive in Europe from America.

Some of these ornamental clones have brand names such as 'Bananarama', 'Tropicana', 'Chyla Dwarf' and at least one, 'Purple Rain' with very dark leaves, is (or rather was, the protection seems to have lapsed) protected under European Plant Breeders' Rights. 'Bananarama' and 'Chyla Dwarf' are very dwarf. The most dwarf of all is probably 'Novak' a plant with an interesting and rather sad history.

'Novak' was developed as a radiation-induced mutant at the IAEA/FAO Joint Laboratories in Siebersdorf, near Vienna in Austria. The scientist in charge of the programme at the time, a delightful man and a great Musa expert, was a Czech scientist, Dr Frantisek (Frank) Novak. Frank was tragically killed in a car crash while travelling in Czechoslovakia shortly after the collapse of the Iron Curtain. The plant is named for him.

There is a variant of 'Novak' derived from tissue culture and known as 'Little Prince'. This plant was erroneously marketed as a form of Musa basjoo in the UK in 2003.

Musa (AAA group) 'Dwarf Cavendish' has an AGM from the Royal Horticultural Society although there is no AGM form; rather unsatisfactory for such a variable plant.

The plant was introduced to UK horticulture in 1829.

The WCM gives the accepted name as Musa nanaMusa nana is the earliest valid binomial given to dwarf AAA group bananas but in my opinion it is not taxonomically useful to give it as the accepted name.  There are many AAA type bananas that show a continuous and taxonomically irrelevant variation in height.  I do not see the point in arbitrarily designating  the smallest of these as Musa nanaMusa nana is not a "good species".

Häkkinen and Väre incorrectly give the publication and typification details as follows: "Magazin für die Botanik 3: 51 (1837). — Type: Paxton (1837), Magazin für die Botanik 3: fig. 1 (lecto-, here designated)".  It is not the Magazin für die Botanik (published in Zurich, 1787 - 1790) it is the Magazine of Botany (published in London 1834 - 1849).

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last updated 22/10/2008