What is Actinidia?

Kay Blynn

Actinidia is the name for a group of shrubs and climbing vines that flower and produce fruit. A dioecious plant, it originates from the forests of China, Japan, and Russia. The most popular and well known variety of this plant is A. deliciosa, commonly known as the kiwi fruit. The kiwi fruit was introduced outside of Eurasia in the 1850s and is the official fruit of China.

Actinidia plants have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain herbisides.
Actinidia plants have been genetically modified to be resistant to certain herbisides.

Actinidia grows on a woody stem and is deciduous, i.e., it loses its leaves during the cold winter season. Shrubs can grow up to 20 feet (6 m) tall. Vines can grow up to 100 feet (30 m) in length. Most varieties typically flower early to mid summer and prefer full sun.

Many varieties of Actinidia are popular garden plants because the tips of their leaves turn bright pink or a coral color during the summer. The shape of the leaves varies with each variety. The leaves of a kiwi fruit are round or oval. New leaves are covered in what looks like fine, red hairs. Mature leaves lose the red hairs and turn a dark green.

These plants are dioecious. Dioecious, derived from the Greek, means “two households.” In the dioecious variety, some plants are male and some are female. This makes the family of plants unusual. Most plants, in contrast, are monoecious, i.e., containing both male and female parts that can self-reproduce. The easiest way to tell if an Actinidia is male or female is to look for berries or fruit. Female dioecious plants produce them; males do not.

When growing A. deliciosa, the most popular variety, both the male and female versions flower, but only the females produce kiwi fruit. In order for a female Actinidia to produce kiwi fruit, a male Actinidia must be planted nearby. Unless the male and female plants are placed in close proximity to each other, they will not be able to pollinate. Both will produce flowers year after year, but the female will be unable to produce kiwi fruit.

Some varieties of Actinidia are known for their effect on cats. Actinidia polygama, commonly known as silver vine, is reported to have the same effect as catnip, causing excitement and bliss in felines, for example. Cats can also be attracted to many other types of Actinidias. It appears as if the base of the woody plants makes a great scratching post.

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