The Cavendish subgroup comprises the cultivars that dominate the international trade (e.g. 'Grande Naine', 'Williams' and 'Valery') and as such have set the standards in terms of taste, yield and post-harvest characteristics expected of an export banana. Their domination of the international trade started in the late 1950s because of their resistance to the race 1 strains of the fungus causing Fusarium wilt in 'Gros Michel' and precluding its continued cultivation in large monocultures for export.
Since then, Cavendish cultivars have also replaced in domestic markets other dessert types that are susceptible to race 1 strains. In 2018, Cavendish cultivars were estimated to account for 57% of the global production of bananas, including the about 15% that were traded internationally.1
In the meantime, another strain of the fungus, the so-called tropical race 4 (TR4) started spreading in Asia in the latter part of the 20th century and has since reached other continents, including Latin America.2
Cavendish cultivars belong to the AAA genome group, which includes the cultivars that have three sets of chromosome inherited from the wild species Musa acuminata as ancestor (see Domestication of the banana). Although the ancestor of the Cavendish subgroup, like all the other domesticated bananas, could no longer reproduce sexually, it could change through somatic mutations and epigenetic processes. The selection and propagation of somatic variants that display desirable morphological characters or improved agronomic performance continue to add new cultivars to the subgroup.3 The exact number is not known.
The name Cavendish is derived from the Latin name Musa cavendishii given in 1837 to a greenhouse specimen in honour of the owner of the plant, the Duke of Devonshire whose family name is Cavendish.4 The British botanist Ernest Cheesman gave the name Cavendish to the group of banana plants at the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture in Trinidad that was connected to the greenhouse specimen "by a series of intergrading mutant forms".5
The cultivars in this subgroup are difficult to tell apart and exhibit a gradation in height from the shortest (Dwarf Cavendish) to the tallest (Lacatan). The fruits are long and slightly curved. A persistent floral relict is attached to the fruit apex, which is moderately tapered. The bunch is cylindrical, with 10 or more hands.
Molecular analyses of accessions in collections have revealed that Cavendish and Gros Michel cultivars are half-siblings, that is they have a parent in common, the one that contributed both copies of its genome (triploid bananas are derived from a cross between two diploid parents — one which normally passed on one copy of its genome, whereas the other contributed both copies, a phenomenon called meiotic restitution). The latter has been identified as a cultivar in the Mlali subgroup, a group of diploid bananas currently found in East Africa only. The closest living representative related to that ancestral Mlali cultivar is Chimoili Kana Nkoboï,6 not Akondro Mainty as previously thought.7 The parents that contributed one copy of their genome were probably different, but genetically close cultivars from the Khai subgroup.6
Cavendish cultivars are susceptible to Pseudocercospora fijiensis and Pseudocercospora musicola, respectively the causal agents of black leaf streak and Sigatoka leaf spot. They are also susceptible to the banana bunchy top virus — but then again so are all other types of bananas — and to nematodes.
Local names and synonyms of Cavendish cultivars in the banana cultivar checklist.