Tree of the moment: Feijoa

It seemed like everywhere I went during last month’s BOP Garden and Art Festival there was a feijoa flower winking at me, many of the shrubby trees being grown as hedges.

Feijoa flowers in New Zealand are mostly bird pollinated. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Acca sellowiana is native to the highlands of southern Brazil, eastern Paraguay, Uruguay, northern Argentina, and Colombia, but grows very well in much of New Zealand. Kiwis will spot the family relationship feijoas have with our native pohutukawa, thanks to the flowers and leaves being so similar. Both are members of the Myrtaceae (myrtle) family.

Originally named Feijoa sellowiana, German botanist Ernst Berger was honouring João da Silva Feijó, a Portuguese naturalist, and Friedrich Sellow, the German who first collected specimens of feijoa in southern Brazil.

A New Zealand newspaper gardening column of 1910 notes that the plant, introduced into Europe in the late 19th century, should grow well in Auckland. By 1925 Hayward Wright, who was a kiwifruit pioneer in New Zealand, was discussing the plant, and offering to show samples, at an Auckland Acclimatisation Society meeting, while in 1929, a newspaper correspondent was being advised that trees could be purchased locally.

A 1987 paper, available online, reports that an “Auckland nurseryman” (no name mentioned) introduced three cultivars from Australia in about 1908. Kate Evans, who is writing a book about feijoas, says in a NZ Geographic article that one account claims they were imported from Australia in about 1908 by our unnamed Auckland nurseryman; another gives the credit to Alexander Allison of Whanganui (another plank in the kiwifruit story). Allison’s property, Kate says, still boasts an enormous feijoa tree that could easily be more than a century old.

All of the interior of a feijoa is eaten, seeds, jelly and flesh. Image: Wikipedia

Known as pineapple guava or guavasteen countries, the fruit seems to divide people. I’m definitely not a fan, disliking the smell and the texture of the flesh. The Vege Grower made some feijoa chutney last year and, when combined with other foods, I’m finding I’m not disliking it, so maybe that’s the permanent solution to the produce of our dwarf Feijoa Bambina. Here are some feijoa recipes from a fan in southern California, and here are recipes from New Zealand.

Writing in the NZ Herald in 1934, Hayward Wright said of the feijoa: “It is bushy and symmetrical in shape, and in the spring is a mass of blossom, a fact which should win a place for it in every garden as a shrub, to say nothing of the fruit, which is destined to become one of the very best for jams or jellies.”

Depending on the variety you choose (here’s the Incredible Edibles range), you could plant for an almost year-round supply of fruit.

Layered hedging – from horopito and star jasmine at the front to the acacia shelterbelt at the back, and bounded on the right by a long feijoa hedge. Photo: Sandra Simpson

The 2019 edition of Fresh Facts (Horticulture NZ), reveals that for the 2018-19 season there were 225 commercial growers of feijoas in New Zealand producing 1,200 tonnes of fruit. The domestic market was worth $4 million and the export market $200,000. The trees have a productive life of about 30-40 years.

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