From the Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe

The Feijoa
Feijoa sellowiana Berg

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)
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 silver-gray.

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 delightful aroma.

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 3.35.

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 open ground.

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 many instances.

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 thus effected.

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 self-sterile.

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, and broad.

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Popenoe, Wilson. "The Feijoa."  Manual of Tropical and Subtropical fruits. 1920. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.

Published 6 Apr. 2015 LR
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