Actinidia chinensis is a separate species from actinidia deliciosa which is the kiwifruit we buy in the shops. It was in 1995 that scientists decided to rename them as previously it was thought they were one and the same. Both are kiwifruit plants, but actinidia deliciosa is the one that is grown commercially. There are clear botanical differences between the two.
Actinidia chinensis is commonly called the Golden Kiwi.
It differs from actinidia deliciosa in that its skin is less hairy. The hair is shorter and softer and rubs off easily. It is oval in shape like actinidia deliciosa but its ends are more pointed. It tastes sweeter and is more aromatic. Color-wise, its pulp varies between a bright yellow or gold to yellow-green or bright green.
All kiwifruit have browny-green coats with greenish flesh inside and hundreds of tiny black seeds that are perfectly edible.
All kiwi fruit originate in the mountainous, heavily forested areas of China, where they entwined themselves around trees in their quest for support as they grew vine-like ever upwards towards the light. They are not true vines because they do not have feelers to hold on to objects. They are deciduous and lose their leaves in autumn, and can reach up to 8m high (25’). Their leaves are oval, large and edible and can reach 8” across, and young leaves are red, turning a deep green color as they age. They are dioecious, requiring separate male and female plants to propagate, though new cultivars are being developed that are self-fertile.
- Chinese/Siberian Gooseberry
- Manchurian Pineapple
- Silver/Tara Vine
- Yang-tao (strawberry peach)
- Yangtze berry
- Ichang gooseberry
Kiwifruit are so-called because a teacher by the name of Mary Isabel Fraser who in 1906 brought seeds back with her to New Zealand after a visit to her sister who was working in China. She gave them to Wanganui nurseryman Alexander Allison who germinated them and by 1910 his vines had produced their first fruit. At first, the kiwifruit was only grown in gardens, but then in 1924, grower Hayward Wright developed actinidia deliciosa ‘Hayward’ a variety of kiwifruit that has become the industry standard.
By the 1940s, New Zealand farmers had begun serious commercial production of the kiwifruit, then called the Chinese Gooseberry.
By the early 1950s when they started exporting abroad, they briefly renamed it melonfruit before settling on the name kiwifruit in recognition of the little bird that is the national symbol of New Zealand.
Nowadays, Italy grows the most commercial kiwifruit, with New Zealand, France, Japan, Chile, Greece and the United states nor far behind.