Actinidia chinensis is a species of climbing plant from the Actinidiaceae family, native to China. The edible fruits it produces are known as kiwis.
Actinidia comes from ancient Greek aktis “small ray”, due to the way in which its styles (flower parts) radiate from the ovary like the spokes of a wheel. Chinensis means “from China”.
Description and flowering period
Actinidia chinensis is a woody vine reaching 6 to 15 meters in height. The leaves are deciduous, bright green, oval to cordate (heart-shaped), very densely veined with toothed margins. Young leaves and stems are covered in ginger-coloured fuzz. Each individual is either male or female (dioecious species). Flowers appear in early spring at the axils of leaves, they are predominantly white, tinged with cream or pale yellow. A bundle of stamens (differing in length according to the subject’s sex) radiates from the centre of the flower. The fruit is an oval berry reaching 5 to 9 cm and ripens from late autumn to early winter. Its paper-thin skin is covered in short reddish-brown hairs, its flesh is green, juicy and had a tangy flavour. The fruit contains over 1 000 tiny black seeds. Some varieties (cultivars) are yellow fleshed.
It prefers light, draining, humus-rich and slightly acidic soil in a sheltered sunny position. It tolerates frosts down to -12°c during dormancy.
- It is widely grown as a food crop, eaten raw or used in desserts, juices and wines; aromatic oils are extracted from flowers and seeds. The fruit is rich in vitamins (especially vitamin C) as well as minerals.
- Medicinal properties: Dried roots are used in the treatment of stomach, liver and bladder related diseases; said to have calming, detoxifying, diuretic and antipyretic properties (according to Chinese medicine).
- Crafts: The sap is turned into glue; fibres, bark and fruit-skins have all known to be used in the making of paper-pulp.
Old as a food crop by New-Zealanders since the start of the twentieth century, the kiwi-fruit has been consumed as a fruit in China since 200 BC. “Kiwi” is originally a brand name given to the fruit by a New-Zealand company as an homage to New-Zealand’s iconic endemic bird.
Translated by: François Saint-Hillier – MNHN