Banana plants have a couple of desirable characteristics. They are attractive tropical ornamental plants, and they produce sweet, delicious fruit. Among the many banana cultivars, the blood banana (Musa zebrina) and "Cavendish" (Musa acuminata "Cavendish") each focus on one of those two characteristics -- the blood banana is a striking ornamental, and "Cavendish" is a dependable fruit producer.
Foliage and Flowers
The foliage of the blood banana sets it apart from "Cavendish" and other bananas with typical unmarked leaves. The leaves of the blood banana are variegated, with dark red or purple patches over the deep green surface of the leaf. The young leaves of "Cavendish" may have some purplish patches, but the leaves turn a uniform glossy green as they mature. The flowers of the two bananas differ, too: blood banana flowers are orange or red, while "Cavendish" flowers are yellow.
The blood banana is a small plant, typically reaching about 6 feet tall. "Cavendish" comes in a number of varieties, each of which varies somewhat in size but all of which are at least somewhat bigger than the blood banana. "Dwarf Cavendish" is closest in size to the blood banana, with a mature height between 8 and 10 feet. "Giant Cavendish" and "Robusta" reach heights of between 10 and 16 feet, and "Lacatan" usually grows 12 to 18 feet high.
Blood banana is usually grown as an ornamental and doesn't always produce fruit, but when it does, the fruit is small, orange-skinned and inedible. "Cavendish" is one of the most common of all edible bananas in the U.S., and it produces prolifically in good growing conditions. A garden-grown "Dwarf Cavendish" can produce a bunch of up to 90 bananas on each stem -- the bananas are sweet, yellow and usually somewhat smaller than commercially grown fruit.
All bananas need plenty of light, water and fertilizer, but a fruit-producing "Cavendish" may need a bit more of all of them than an ornamental blood banana. Like all bananas, both are frost tender and must be protected from below-freezing temperatures and wind. The blood banana grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 8 through 11, and "Cavendish" grows in USDA zones 9 through 11.