From the Manual of
Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe
Edouard Andre, one of the greatest French horticulturists of the past
century, took home with him when he returned from a voyage to South
America in 1890 plants of Feijoa Sellowiana, a fruit at that time
unknown save as a wild species upon the campos of southern Brazil,
Uruguay, Paraguay, and parts of Argentina. He tried them in his garden
on the Riviera, and they succeeded remarkably well. In 1898, by means
of an article in the Revue Hor-ticole, he brought the stranger to the
attention of horticulturists, and it was soon planted experimentally
all along the Riviera. About 1900 it was introduced into California,
where its cultivation has attracted much attention in the past few
years. Its prompt dissemination in that state was due largely to the
efforts of F. Franceschi of Santa Barbara.
Fig. 38. Foliage, flowers, and fruits of the
feijoa (Feijoa Sellowiana). (X 1/3)
As a rule wild fruits, or those which have not been improved by
cultivation, are seedy or have scanty flesh. The feijoa, taken directly
from the wild, is remarkable for the minute size of its seeds, its
abundance of flesh, and its delicious perfumed flavor.
The plant reaches an ultimate height of 15 or 18 feet. There are
several types in cultivation; one may be compact, low-growing, while
another will be tall, open, and inclined to be straggling in habit.
The leaves are similar in form and appearance to those of the olive,
but usually larger. The upper surface is glossy green, the lower
The flowers are 1 1/2 inches broad and strikingly handsome. They are
peculiar in that the fleshy petals are good to eat. The four petals are
cupped, white outside and purplish within; and the long stiff stamens
form a conspicuous crimson tuft in the center.
The fruit is round, oval, or oblong in shape, 1 to 3 inches long, dull
green in color, overspread with a thick whitish bloom, and sometimes
blushed dull red on one side. The thin skin incloses a layer of
granular flesh, whitish and about 1/4 inch thick, which surrounds a
quantity of translucent, jelly-like pulp in which twenty to thirty
minute seeds are embedded. The flavor is suggestive of pineapple and
strawberry, and when properly ripened the fruit has a penetrating and
In its native country the feijoa is scarcely known as a cultivated
plant. It is a wild species, called guayabo del pais. In southern
France it is found in a number of gardens, but it is not yet
commercially cultivated there, although the desirability of extending
its culture has been pointed out by several prominent horticulturists.
It has been found to succeed in Algeria and L. Trabut recommends it as
a promising new fruit for that country. Although introduced into Cuba,
southern Florida, and several other tropical regions, it has not been
successful in any of them. It has become evident that the plant is
subtropical in its requirements, and that it cannot be expected to
produce good fruit in moist tropical regions. In the dry climate of
California it is eminently successful. Numerous small commercial
plantings have been made in various parts of the state, and the fruit
has begun to appear regularly in the markets.
The feijoa may be eaten as a fresh fruit, or it may be stewed, or made
into jam or jelly. Different opinions have been expressed regarding its
value as a fresh fruit; those who have eaten perfectly ripened
specimens of a good variety have invariably praised it, while others
who have been less fortunate and have chanced to try improperly ripened
ones or those of an inferior variety, have considered that the feijoa
does not merit the praise which has been bestowed on it. An analysis of
the ripe fruit made at the University of California shows it to
contain: Water 84.88 per cent, ash 0.56, protein 0.82, fat 0.24,
carbohydrates 4.24 (invert sugar 2.66, sucrose 1.58), and crude fiber
The feijoa is hardier than many other subtropical fruits. It has
withstood with little injury temperatures as low as 15° above
zero. It delights in a dry climate but one free from extremely high
temperatures. As was mentioned above, it has not proved successful in
moist tropical regions. It is so drought-resistant that it has been
grown successfully at Santa Barbara, California, with no artificial
irrigation; yet it must be irrigated as liberally as the citrus fruits
if the best results are to be obtained. In the extremely hot desert
valleys of California, such as the Coachella, it has not been fully
successful. Edouard Andre pointed out that the native home of the
feijoa is the region of Cocos australis; it is probable, therefore,
that the climate to which the plant is naturally adapted is a mild one,
free from extremes of temperature, and having a yearly rainfall of 30
to 40 inches.
A sandy loam, rich in humus, is considered to be the ideal soil for the
feijoa. In California it has been grown successfully on adobe, red
clay, and sandy loam. French horticulturists consider that the plant
will not tolerate much lime. It is not known whether its failure to
produce good fruit in Florida is due solely to unfavorable climatic
conditions, or whether the light sandy soils, often containing much
lime, are partly responsible.
The plants should be spaced 15 to 18 feet apart if they are not to
crowd one another when mature. While young they should be watered
liberally, and it is desirable to keep a heavy mulch around them to
prevent evaporation. In California it is customary to form a basin
around each plant; after the mulch is added there is still room for
water, of which one or two buckets should be given weekly during the
dry season. After the plants reach fruiting age, they should be
irrigated every two or three weeks. When a mulch is not used, the
ground should be cultivated after each irrigation.
The amount of manure which can be used advantageously has not been
determined. It has been the general practice in California to give the
young plants an abundance of stable manure, and the effect of this
seems to be highly beneficial. There has been a suspicion that large
amounts of manure, if applied to bearing plants, would decrease the
production of fruit, but the evidence is not convincing. Lack of
pollination is probably the cause of many crop failures which are
attributed to excessive soil fertilization.
Plants of the compact low-growing type require almost no pruning. Those
of tall straggling form often need cutting back in order to keep the
branches from developing to such great length that they cannot support
their own weight.
Seedling feijoas do not reproduce the parent variety and are less
satisfactory than plants propagated by some vegetative means. Layering
is used in France. In the United States many plants have been grown
from cuttings, and not a few by whip-grafting.
When seedlings are grown, they should be from plants which produce good
fruits in abundance. If kept dry, feijoa seeds will retain their
viability a year or more. One of the best mediums for germinating them
is a mixture of silver-sand and well-rotted redwood sawdust. They are
small and delicate, and should not be planted in heavy soil. A light
sandy loam, containing much humus, is satisfactory. The seeds should be
sown in pans or flats, covering to the depth of } inch. Germination
usually takes place within three weeks. A glasshouse is not necessary,
but the flats containing the seeds should be kept in a frame with lath
or slat covering to provide half-shade. As soon as the young plants
have made their second leaves they should be pricked off into two-inch
pots; after attaining a height of 4 inches they should be shifted into
three-inch pots, from which they can later be transplanted into the
Layering is somewhat tedious, but with the feijoa is more successful
than any other vegetative means of propagation. Those branches which
are nearest the ground are bent down and covered with soil for the
space of 3 to 6 inches. They require no care except keeping the soil
moist. They will root in about six months, after which time they may be
severed from the parent and set in their permanent positions.
Cuttings are successfully rooted under glass, and occasionally in the
slat-house or lath-house. They should be of young wood from the ends of
branches, and about 4 inches in length. Inserted in clear sand over
bottom-heat, they will strike roots in a month or two; without
bottom-heat they root very slowly. It is sometimes advised to keep them
covered with a bell-jar. In Florida good results have been obtained by
using as cuttings the young sprouts which appear around the base of the
plant; these are removed with a heel when still quite small, and are
planted in sand. Although they are slow to form roots, the percentage
of loss is lower than when branch-tips are used.
Whip-grafting has given good results in some instances, and is probably
one of the best methods of propagating the feijoa. The stock-plants
should be of the diameter of a lead-pencil, the cions slightly smaller
and of firm wood. Grafting has been successful both under glass and in
the open ground.
Many feijoa plants which have been grown in California have borne
little or no fruit. It has commonly been thought that wrong cultural
practices were the cause of this, but the investigations of K. A.
Ryerson and the author indicate that self-sterility may be to blame in
In its native home, the feijoa is believed to be pollinated by certain
birds that visit the flowers in order to eat the fleshy sweet petals.
The stamens and style project to a considerable height in the center of
the flower; they brush against the breast of the visiting bird and
pollen-grains adhere to its feathers. When it visits the next plant
some of these pollen-grains are likely to come in contact with the
stigmas of other flowers and remain upon them. Cross-pollination is
In the United States the birds which do this work in the habitat of the
feijoa are not present; consequently the plant must depend on other
pollinating agencies. In some instances feijoa plants are self-fertile,
and abundant fruits are produced when the flowers are self-pollinated.
In other instances, it has been found that they are self-sterile, and
can develop fruits only when pollen is brought from a different plant.
The pollen of self-sterile feijoas has been found potent, when applied
to flowers of other individuals.
To avoid the dissemination of self-sterile feijoas, varieties known to
be self-fertile should be propagated by vegetative means. Seedlings,
even if grown from a self-fertile variety, may nevertheless be
Grafted or layered plants begin bearing two or three years after they
are planted. Seedlings may not bear until the fourth or fifth year.
Self-fertile varieties often yield regularly and abundantly. The
ripening season in California is October to December. The fruits fall
to the ground when mature, and must be laid in a cool place until they
are in condition for eating, - which can be known by their becoming
slightly soft, and by their perfumed aroma. They spoil quickly in a
hot, humid atmosphere, but if stored in a cool place they may be kept a
month in good condition. They can be shipped long distances without
difficulty. Feijoas are usually packed for market in fruit-baskets
holding about two quarts.
To be appreciated, this fruit must be eaten at the proper degree of
ripeness. M. Viviand-Morel says, "Everyone knows that the finest pears
are only turnips if eaten a trifle too soon or a trifle too late." The
observation is applicable also to the feijoa.
The plant is attacked by few insect pests. The black scale (Saissetia oleoe
Bernard) is the principal enemy which has been noted. No fungous
parasites have yet become troublesome.
In the Pomona College Journal of Economic Botany (February, 1912), the
writer has described three varieties of the feijoa, the Andre, the
Besson, and the Hehre. The Andre, described below, is the only one
which has been widely disseminated. Other varieties which have
originated in California as seedlings have been propagated to a limited
extent, but they are little known as yet.
Andre. - Form oblong to oval; size medium, length 2 to 2 inches,
breadth 1 1/2 inches; base rounded, the stem inserted without
depression ; apex rounded, the calyx-segments cupped; surface
roughened, light green in color, overspread with a thick whitish bloom;
flesh whitish, juicy, of spicy, aromatic flavor suggesting the
pineapple and the strawberry; seeds few, small. Season November and
December on the French Riviera and in southern California.
This variety is of unknown origin. It was brought to France from
Uruguay in 1890 by Edouard Andre, and was planted in his garden at
Golfe-Juan, on the Riviera. Layered plants were later sent from France
to California. It is self-fertile, and fruits profusely. The shrub is
sometimes erect and open in habit, and in other instances low, compact,