Page 2 – Early history, names and varieties
Introduction to New Zealand
Kiwifruit seeds first arrived in New Zealand in 1904, brought back from China by Wanganui Girls College headmistress Isabel Fraser, who had been visiting her missionary sister. She gave the seeds to Alexander Allison, a Whanganui farmer with an interest in unusual plants.
Alexander Allison is credited with growing the first plants of Chinese gooseberry, as kiwifruit was originally known in New Zealand. Its fruit attracted the interest of a number of nurserymen, and by the 1920s plants were being sold at several nurseries. Chinese gooseberries became increasingly popular in the 1930s and 1940s, but remained a novelty crop grown in private gardens and for local markets.
In China, kiwifruit has several colloquial names, including monkey peach, macaque pear, vine pear, sun peach and wood berry. Recently, the name strange fruit, an apparent transliteration of the word kiwifruit, has become common in Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Early horticulturalists selected Chinese gooseberry plants grown from the original seed. Most notable was Auckland nurseryman Hayward Wright, whose vines grew large fruit that kept well and had an excellent flavour. These plants were propagated by grafting and eventually became the preferred cultivated variety (cultivar) for both growers and consumers. In 1956 the cultivar was named Hayward as a tribute. By the late 1960s it was the standard cultivar of the kiwifruit export trade.
The name Chinese gooseberry was changed to melonette, then kiwifruit in 1959 by Auckland fruit-packing company Turner & Growers. Kiwifruit soon became the standard name in horticultural circles. Some countries shorten the name to kiwi.
The green-fleshed kiwifruit was originally given the scientific name Actinidia chinensis, but after an examination of plants in China, botanists renamed it A. deliciosa in 1984. The name A. chinensis was reserved for yellow-fleshed kiwifruit.
In the late 1970s, seeds of A. chinensis were imported to breed new types of kiwifruit. Experiments produced a favourite, ‘Hort16A’, named for its position in the research orchard and the organisation which developed it (HortResearch). In 2000, the cultivar was launched on the worldwide market by Zespri, New Zealand’s kiwifruit marketing company, under the trade name Zespri Gold. The smooth-skinned, yellow-fleshed fruit tasted sweet, with overtones of mango – qualities that have been the key to new Asian markets.
The introduction of gold-fleshed kiwifruit has been a turning point in the industry’s history. It is likely that other, perhaps more competitive, cultivars may be developed, and another breed, Actinidia arguta, has been introduced commercially.