|Actinidia deliciosa||Chinese Gooseberry; Kiwi Fruit|
This is a vigorous, deciduous climber which can reach up to 9m (28ft) long. Its shoots are covered with reddish-brown hairs; the large, heart-shaped leaves are dark green on the upper surface and slightly hairy, with a margin of stiff hairs, and densely grey-hairy on the underside; leaves on the non-flowering shoots are 15-23 cm long x 10-20 cm wide (6-9 inches x 4-8 inches); the leaves on the flowering shoots are shorter and broader with a deep notch at the tip.
Fragrant flowers, white, ageing to yellowish-cream, are borne on side shoots on 1year-old wood; they have 5 sepals, woolly and rounded, and 5 wide-oval petals, and many stamens. The fruit is oval with a slightly flattened top and base, and has a brown skin, covered with reddish hairs; the flesh is a strong green with many black seeds. It is necessary to plant both sexes to obtain fruit.
Robert Fortune first noticed this plant in China (presumably in cultivation?) in 1847, on his travels there for the Royal Horticultural Society; it was later seen in Japan by Maries, and in 1900 Ernest Wilson collected seed of the plant in Hupeh, and it was from this seed that the first plants were cultivated in the West.
Seeds were taken to New Zealand in 1904, and these laid the foundation of the New Zealand popularisation of the fruit in the 1970's, hence the popular name "Kiwi fruit".
The variety most commonly cultivated in New Zealand is 'Hayward'; there are several others. It is now a crop fruit in several other countries, including Italy, USA, Australia, Chile, and France.
Date of introduction to the West 1900.
The name Actinidia is derived from the Greek aktis, a ray, referring to the styles in the flower, which radiate like the spokes of a wheel.
Photographs: fruiting plant in Mount Stewart Gardens, Co Down.