Hardy Kiwifruits and Other Sweet Delights

Hardy kiwifruits are grape-size, borne in clusters and can be eaten just like grapes, skin and all.

| June/July 2004

Hardy kiwifruits are grape-size, borne in clusters and can be eaten just like grapes, skin and all. They have the same sparkling green flesh and a taste similar to supermarket kiwifruits, except hardy kiwifruits are much sweeter and more flavorful, and much more cold-hardy — down to minus 25 degrees.

In the humid mountain forests of eastern Asia, where the plants are native, people have been eating kiwifruits for centuries. The twining vines, both males and females, clamber up trees and sprawl over the ground; a single male is capable of pollinating the fruit of up to eight nearby females.

The two main hardy species of kiwifruits, Actinidia arguta (hardy) and A. kolomikta (super-hardy), are both grown in North America, primarily for their ability to drape arbors and pergolas with their extremely handsome foliage. Leaves of A. arguta look similar to those of apple trees, except they remain a vibrant green all summer and are attached to stems that grow on decorative red stalks.

Leaves of male A. kolomikta vines and, to a lesser extent, females, have silvery-white and pink variegations so distinctive that they look as if an artist painted them. The cup-shaped, pale golden flowers of either species are attractive, but usually they remain hidden and unappreciated beneath the foliage.

The popularity of hardy kiwifruit for eating has soared so rapidly, they have yet to receive a widely acknowledged common name of their own. As an ornamental, some nurseries sell the plant as "bower vine," so perhaps "bowerberry" is an appropriate name. "Kuwi" has been suggested, a name that combines the common and botanical names. A. kolomikta also is marketed as "Arctic Beauty" kiwifruit or grape kiwi. "Peewee kiwi" and "Piwifruit" are other possibilities. A. kolomikta fruits are smaller and ripen earlier than those of A. arguta, and they sometimes drop when ripe. A. kolomikta plants also are less rampant.

A number of varieties of both species are available. Among the A. arguta cultivars is "Anna," a Russian selection whose full name is "Ananasnaja." It's very reliable, although it just barely ripens in northern areas, including my Zone-5 New York garden. "Issai," from Japan, ripens similarly late and is somewhat self-fertile but not very cold-hardy.

Jeanette Patterson
8/29/2012 6:15:00 PM

These sound delicious. Are they available in stores?

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