Plant of the moment: Kiwifruit

With the kiwifruit picking and packing season in full swing, I thought I’d feature kiwifruit – this particular one is Actinidia deliciosa ‘Bruno’ and the plants are some 40 years old. I found them growing in a backyard in Brookfield, Tauranga, where the owner had trained a male plant across the bottom of purpose-built pergola and a female plant across the top.

The two Bruno kiwifruit plants. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Although you may not have heard of Bruno – Hayward is the dominant green variety – the New Zealand kiwifruit industry uses Bruno widely as a rootstock for both green and gold fruit.

The variety is named for Bruno Just of Palmerston North (1848-1945), one of the nurserymen in New Zealand who recognised the potential of kiwifruit.

From Plant Breeding in New Zealand by GS Wratt and HC Smith (Butterworth-Heineman, 2015): Bruno Just raised larger numbers of seedlings and made selections which he propagated and sold as grafted plants – the cultivar known as Bruno was selected from a group of 30 plants.

The authors say Mr Just sold plants in many parts of the country, including Te Puke (now known as the kiwifruit capital of the world), and it was mainly due to him that kiwifruit became better known.

Bruno is a more reliable cropper than Hayward (which needs management to do well every year) but has elongated fruit that apparently don’t have the keeping qualities of Hayward. Although Bruno was among the first kiwifruit exported, by the 1970s the variety was no longer considered worth growing as a crop.

Flowers on the female vine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

However, in Kiwifruit: The Genus Actinidia (Academic Press, 2016), author Hongwen Huang says: ‘Bruno’ was introduced into China in 1980, and since the fruit have a reasonable storage life and the vines performed well under tough conditions in Zhejiang, it has gradually become one of the widely grown kiwifruit cultivars in China.  

Originally known to New Zealanders as Chinese gooseberries, A. deliciosa came to New Zealand in 1904, thanks to Miss Isabel Fraser, headmistress of Wanganui Girls’ College, who been to visit her missionary sister in China and brought some seeds home with her. She gave some to Alexander Allison who grew the vines on his farm near Wanganui – most of the fruit on these early plants were small and very hairy – and who passed plants on to Bruno Just.

In 1937 Te Puke dairy farmer Jim McLoughlin bought some plants from Bruno Just – and 20 years later, when the vines came into production, he became one of the first exporters of the fruit. Read more about the kiwifruit industry in and around Te Puke in this 2005 NZ Geographic article.

The Hayward variety is named for Hayward Wright, another pioneer in kiwifruit. In a biography of this pioneering plantsman, Ann Chapman writes: … it was in the 1930s that Hayward Wright, an exceptional horticulturist, researcher and an opportunist, saw the potential in this new plant. He pollinated and produced a fruit which was large, flavoursome with exceptional keeping properties. Enter the Hayward strain of kiwifruit, the cultivar which was to become the foundation of our modern industry.

The name Chinese gooseberry was abandoned in 1959 when it was felt that importers didn’t associate the fruit with New Zealand. After trying ‘melonettes’, Auckland fruit-packing company Turner & Growers came up with ‘kiwifruit’.

In 2015/16 Zespri, New Zealand’s single-desk exporter, sold 131 million trays of  kiwifruit to 53 countries.

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2 thoughts on “Plant of the moment: Kiwifruit

  1. A wonderful, informative post, rich with history and botanical information! I spent 3- 4 years of my life living in New Zealand, both North and South. It was there that I first saw and ate Kiwifruit, sold by Zespri in the supermarkets.
    Now, I’m far away from that beautiful country, but thanks for bringing back such lovely memories.

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