"Chinese gooseberry" is the lesser-known name for the kiwifruit, a popular subtropical fruit that became well known around the world in the 1950s, when it began to be exported from New Zealand on a large scale. This fruit has a characteristic tart, acidic flavor and pulpy green flesh. The fruits are also sometimes called kiwi fruits, or simply kiwis. Whatever consumers call it, it is used in a wide range of dishes and is also eaten out of hand. Many grocery stores carry kiwis in season, and they can also be grown at home in temperate climates.
The fruit is native to Southern China, where it has historically been known by a range of names. In the early 1900s, several plants were imported to New Zealand, where they found a home in some private gardens. The Chinese gooseberry has very decorative foliage and attractive white flowers, so many gardeners grew it as a trailing vine as well as a fruit producing plant. In 1924, a sturdy, large cultivar known as the Hayward was developed, and commercial production began in a serious way.
Beginning in the 1950s, the fruit started to be exported to various countries around the world, including the United States. New Zealand growers changed the name of the fruit to “melonette,” due to concerns about Cold War hostilities between the United States and China that might make a "Chinese" fruit unappealing to the American market. American importers did not like the name, however, leading New Zealand growers to suggest the alternate name of kiwifruit, which quickly caught on.
Several varieties of Chinese gooseberry are grown around the world, including a golden version with sweet, sunny flesh and cold-hardy versions designed for colder climates. The fruits are high in vitamin C and fiber, and they are made into jam, added to fruit salads, and eaten straight. Some consumers enjoy the fuzzy brown skin, while others prefer to scoop the flesh out. Kiwis also contain an enzyme that some people are allergic to, leading to a tinging, sometimes unpleasant feeling around the lips and mouth. In extreme cases, the allergy can be more severe, requiring medical attention. People who are allergic to papayas and pineapples should probably avoid kiwis as well.
Most cultivars of the fruit are hardy through USDA zone eight, as long as they are grown in temperate weather with cool winters and mild summers. Some cultivars have been specifically bred for cooler weather, and they are often available at garden stores in these regions. Since the plant is a vine, it should be planted with a sturdy trellis, and approximately 20 feet (6 meters) should be left between plants. If fruit is a desired, at least one male plant should be planted for every nine female plants. The kiwi prefers well drained soil in full sun exposure, and it should be pruned every year to encourage healthy fruit producing vines. It will take two to four years for a vine to produce fruit after planting.