History of Kiwis

History of Kiwis
Much of the history of kiwi focuses on the fuzzy kiwi that is grown commercially. In general, the other species were often grown in the West mostly as ornamentals rather than for the fruits. --

For the most part, kiwi vines are native to Asia. The fuzzy kiwi was originally from China. For thousands of years, the Chinese collected the fruits from wild plants. Only in the 1600s or so did they actually begin to cultivate the plants.

During the 1800s and the 1900s, plant collectors from western countries began collecting either the seeds or kiwi plants in Japan and China. In some cases, the plant collectors seemed to have made no mention of the fruits.

By 1847, the first kiwi seeds arrived in England. E. J. Wilson, a plant collector, sent seeds to the United States, France, and England around 1900 or so. As a result, a 1904 catalog of James Veitch & Sons in England listed kiwi seeds. In England and elsewhere, the fuzzy kiwis were originally grown in greenhouses.

It also seems that Robert Fortune, another plant collector, had collected kiwi plants on his trips. In the early 1900s or so, kiwi seeds or plants arrived in New Zealand and California.

This plant was introduced to New Zealand in the late 1800s by Isabel Frasek, who was headmaster of a girls’ college in New Zealand. She brought seeds home after visiting Asia. Some of the plants grown from her seeds were planted by Alexander Allison of Wargamu, New Zealand. In New Zealand, the fruits were originally called Chinese gooseberries and only later were they renamed kiwis.

The first commercial size planting in New Zealand was at the Bay of Plenty around twenty years later. By the time World War II began, New Zealand was shipping kiwi fruits to England and America. .

By the mid-1950s the fruits had become popular in export markets. By the 1980s, New Zealand growers were shipping ½ million tons of fruits annually. In addition, folks in other countries began growing them as well, such as France.

In the U.S., the first kiwi plants were sent to California around 1904. The USDA Plant Introduction Station in Chico, California introduced the plants in 1936. As a result, the state’s entire kiwi industry began from these modest efforts.

The first commercial planting of fuzzy kiwi in California was in 1960 by Carl Heinke. He was given the plants by Bob Smith of the U.S. Plant Introduction Station. Smith also gave seeds to George Tanimoto of California who planted a commercial orchard of kiwis. Tanimoto’s kiwi crops were bought and marketed to consumers by Frieda Caplan, owner of Frieda’s Fresh Produce.

By 1974, there were two thousand acres of kiwis in California. California kiwis are available from October through May. The rest of the year, kiwis grown in New Zealand, Chile, and elsewhere are imported into the U.S.

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