Actinidia deliciosa or Chinese Gooseberry is a climbing shrub from China, where kiwi has been declared national fruit.
Previously, Actinidia chinensis and Actinidia deliciosa were regarded as the same species but some 15 years ago it was decided that, because of clear botanical differences, they should be classified as a separate species.
The leaves are oval to almost round, long-petioled and between 7 and 13 cm long and 20 cm wide. Young leaves are covered with red hairs, old leaves are dark green with almost no hair on top, the bottom is white fluffy with prominent light coloured veins.
The flowers are small (2.5 to 5 cm in diameter), first white and then yellow. They have 5 or 6 petals and appear in groups of three on a stem that originates in the leaf axils. They are fragrant and have no nectar.
Normally the flowers are pollinated by bees, but pollination in culture can be done manually. The pollen from the male flowers is then harvested and sprayed on the female plants.
The fruit is oval and about 6 cm long. The brown skin is covered with stiff thick hairs. The flesh is bright green with a white center from which white lines radiate. The taste is slightly sour like a strawberry and gooseberry.
The name actinidia means ‘little ray’ because of the lines in the fruit that radiate from the center outwards and deliciosa means ‘delicious’.
Strawberry Peach (USA)
There are no synonyms but Actinidia chinensis is still used erroneously because the classification as a separate species is quite recent.
China, between 600 and 2.600 m altitude
In China the fruits have been harvested from plants growing in the wild since centuries but they were not grown. In 1847 seeds were harvested by the Royal Horticultural Society (London, UK). The plant has been spread from China early 20th century. Isabel Fraser, a school principal from New Zealand brought seeds back from China and a local nurseryman sowed them.
The name kiwi was given in 1958 in New Zealand because of its resemblance with the kiwi bird which is the national emblem: brown and fuzzy.
Italy is now the worlds biggest kiwi producer.
USDA Zone 7, -15 °C
But prefers warmer climates where young buds and flowers risk less frost damage
Fertile and moist
3 to 5 m
Very easy but do it only for fun: it takes from 3 to 8 years for the plant to start flowering and producing fruit.
If you prefer to harvest fruit rapidly, buy a plant at a nursery. Male plants are usually grafted on a female plant for pollination since Actinidia deliciosa is dioecious.
- Actinidia deliciosa seed needs a cold period to germinate in the spring. This can be done artificially by putting the seeds for a couple of weeks in the fridge. But fruit bought in the store has undergone cooling during transport, so it’s not essential to stratify the seeds before sowing.
- if you harvest seeds from fresh fruit, make sure you get all the pulp from the seeds before sowing: pulp prohibits germination. You can do this buy rubbing the seeds in a very fine sieve or rub them between two sheets of kitchen paper. Rinse in a glass of water: the remaining pulp will float and the seeds sink, you will be able to drain it.
- sow in a light mix
- 20-25 °C
- germination time: 3 weeks to 2 months
- repot: when seedlings are big enough to handle
- the plant is a climber but cannot attach itself to its support, it needs leading and you will have to fasten new branches to the climbing device
- harvesting will be easier if you provide horizontal support
- can also be grown over a pergola but harvesting will be a bit complicated
- the best place is against a south facing wall
- likes moist soil, be sure to water regularly during summer
- plant in the garden when all danger of frost has ceased (May)
- before planting put a good layer of compost in the plan thole
- then give regular cow manure or fertilizer during the growing season
- prune in February to give shape
- prune the branches in July, the branches which bear little or no fruit so that the remaining fruit gets all the nutrition
- Actinidia deliciosa: Rob Hille