Native to China, the kiwi fruit has been cultivated in Asia for hundreds of years, and it shares many characteristics with other species that also belong to the Actinidia genus, including its climbing growth, flower arrangement, and classification as a berry fruit. The botanical name of kiwi (Actinidia deliciosa) was given to this fruit as recently as 1984 in order to help identify the unique qualities of this very popular fruit, such as its growth patterns, appearance, and taste.
The Kiwi Genus
The Actinidia genus, which is part of the Actinidiaceae family, is comprised of roughly 54 other species and 21 varieties. However, only A. chinensis var. chinensis and A. chinensis var. deliciosa are commercially cultivated.
The genus Actinidia is widely distributed across eastern Asia, from the tropics to cold, temperate latitudes, but most species (generically known as mihoutao or macaque monkey peach) are endemic to the south central and northwestern Chinese mountains, especially Actinidia chinensis, commonly known as golden kiwi, which grows wild and is collected by the ton every year.
THE NAME ACTINIDIA IS DERIVED FROM THE GREEK WORD AKINOS, WHICH MEANS “RAY,” AND WAS GIVEN TO DESCRIBE THE RADIAL APPEARANCE OF THE INSIDE OF THE KIWIFRUIT.
For many years, kiwi fruit botanical name was Actinidia chinensis, until it was decided that the differences between the Chinese kiwi and the kiwi fruit we all know, warranted them different names. One variant had smooth skin with very fine hairs (A. chinensis), while the other variant had hairy skin. This hairy variant of kiwi was given the scientific name of Actinidia deliciosa. The word deliciosa comes from the Latin deliciosus, meaning delicious due to the juicy taste of kiwi.
IT WAS NOT UNTIL 1984, THAT C.F. LIANG AND A.R. FERGUSON FINALLY CHANGED KIWI FRUIT SCIENTIFIC NAME TO ACTINIDIA DELICIOSA, AND THIS BERRY FRUIT VARIANT BECAME A NEW MEMBER OF THE ACTINIDIA GENUS.
Common Kiwi Names
Originally, the kiwi fruit was referred to as Chinese gooseberry, because of its Chinese origin and its appearance. However, this lead to confusion with actual gooseberry fruits, and so around 1960, New Zealanders changed the name to "kiwifruit." The word fruit was included in the name in order to avoid confusion with the kiwi bird, but as the fruit became more popular, the name shortened to just "kiwi."
Nowadays, there are many kiwi varieties to choose from; however, a cultivar called 'Hayward' has become so internationally popular that, oftentimes, people will use this name as a moniker for the entire species.
The kiwi fruit name in Chinese is yangtao, meaning "strawberry peach."Over the years, the kiwi fruit has been called a number of names; however, due to its unique qualities and extreme popularity, this exotic berry has earned itself its own scientific name and common use of the abbreviation "kiwi."
- California Rare Fruit Growers, Kiwifruit
- Edible Medicinal And Non-Medicinal Plants, Volume 1, Fruits, pp. 20-22
- Kiwifruit: Actinidia deliciosa, Actinidia
- Kiwifruit: The Genus ACTINIDIA
- Missouri Botanical Garden, Actinidia deliciosa
- Nutritional Benefits of Kiwifruit, pp. 17-24
- Nutritional Composition of Fruit Cultivars, Chapter 15: The Nutritional Composition of Kiwifruit (Actinidia spp.)
- Purdue University, New Temperate Fruits: Actinidia chinensis and Actinidia deliciosa
- Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, Actinidia deliciosa (kiwi fruit)