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.

Plant of the moment: Kiwifruit

With the 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 and has proved resistant to the kiwifruit vine disease PSA-v, first found in New Zealand in 2010.

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 had 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 MacLoughlin 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.

Nectarine Goldmine

Discovering more about the origins of particular plants is always fun and after mentioning Nectarine Mabel earlier this week (named for the gardener who found the seedling), I remembered coming across Nectarine Goldmine while researching a feature on spring blossoms.

An online search reveals that it was “developed” by Hayward Wright in the early 20th century. Hayward Wright, as you will doubtless know, is the man who was a pioneer in the field of commercial kiwifruit (Hayward’s variety is named for him).

goldmine

Blossom of Nectarine Goldmine. Photo: Sandra Simpson

There is a fairly new, and constantly developing, online resource called Papers Past, which are scanned articles from old New Zealand newspapers.

An article from The Press in 1910 states that Goldmine was a chance seedling from Nectarine Ansenne found in a garden in Parnell, Auckland. “It has proved to be one of the finest nectarines known,” the article says, “and is more largely planted than any other variety.”

From 1921, Goldmine and its named seedlings were used in the United States and Australia as breeding parents in attempts to improve the nectarine.

Read an excellent biography of Hayward Wright by Ann Chapman, “probably the greatest plantsman New Zealand horticulture has had”.