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.
Plate XV. A fruiting jaboticaba tree.
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.
Fig. 38. Foliage, flowers, and fruits of the feijoa (Feijoa Sellowiana). (X 1/3)
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.