Story: Citrus, berries, exotic fruit and nuts

Page 3. Tamarillos, passionfruit and feijoas

All images & media in this story


Tamarillos (Solanum betaceum, formerly Cyphomandra betacea) are native to the northern Andes of South America. The trees are small (3–4 metres high), evergreen, soft-stemmed and frost-sensitive.

The plant was introduced to New Zealand in 1891 by the Auckland nursery D. Hay & Sons. At first only yellow and purple fruiting varieties were grown. A red-fruited variety was bred at Māngere East in the 1920s, and small-scale commercial production began.

The fruit was strongly promoted in the 1960s and the industry prospered for a few years. The area under cultivation increased from 130 hectares in 1970 to 270 hectares in 2002. Tamarillos are mainly grown in Bay of Plenty, Northland and Auckland.


Although tamarillos are from South America, the name is not Spanish, but a New Zealand invention. The fruit was originally known as tree tomato, but to avoid confusion with the common tomato, and increase its appeal to overseas customers, the New Zealand Tree Tomato Promotions Council decided to rename it. Council member W. Thompson came up with ‘tamarillo’, claiming this sounded both Māori and Spanish. The new name was officially adopted on 1 February 1967.

The tamarillo bears its first crop 18 months after planting and can be productive for seven to eight years. After that, productivity is usually limited by a build-up of viruses. The fruit is harvested between April and October. Tamarillos prefer light, well-drained soils with a pH range of 5.8–6.5.

Tamarillos have a distinctive tart flavour. The red tamarillo has a high acid content and cannot be canned.

Tamarillos are not a common commercial crop around the world, but earned New Zealand an average $700,000 in annual exports over the five years to June 2006. In 2004 domestic sales were $1.4 million.


Black passionfruit vines (Passiflora edulis) are fast-growing, frost-tender climbers, originating in the tropical highlands of Brazil. They were first commercially planted in New Zealand at Kerikeri in 1927. Passionfruit production is now concentrated in Northland, Taranaki and Bay of Plenty, over an area of 66 hectares.

Forbidden fruit

Banana passionfruit (Passiflora mollissima and P. mixta), grown in New Zealand home gardens since the 1870s, have been declared unwanted organisms. They produce sweet, banana-shaped yellow fruit – but they are escape artists. Birds, possums and humans have spread the seeds into forest and regenerating scrub, where the vigorous vines overtop and smother native plants.

The vines are grown on an A-frame trellis or pergola. They start bearing 18 months after planting and are commercially productive for four to six years. Their purple fruit is harvested between February and May. Passionfruit prefer light sandy soils with good drainage. They do not grow well in clay soils.

Passionfruit exports earned $700,000 in 2006.


Feijoas (Acca sellowiana) grow on small evergreen trees native to south-eastern Brazil and Uruguay. The trees are frost-hardy, but fruit best in temperate and subtropical climates. Plants were originally introduced into New Zealand in the early 1900s as ornamental shrubs. Because they withstood coastal winds they were often planted as low shelter belts.

Pioneer plant-breeder Hayward Wright imported and bred different varieties of feijoa between 1929 and the early 1950s, and these formed the basis of the industry. In the late 1970s, government scientists built on this pioneering work with an enhanced selection and breeding programme for self-fertility and fruit quality. Cultivars from this programme – Apollo and Gemini – are the main varieties grown in orchards.

By 2002, feijoa cultivation covered 198 hectares, spread over 200 orchards throughout the North Island. Feijoa trees have a productive life of 30–40 years. Most varieties require a pollinator plant, although some are self-fertile. Feijoas grow well on a wide range of soils, but require good drainage.

The domestic market for feijoas was worth $1.7 million in 2004, while exports earned $100,000 in 2006.

In the home garden, fruit is gathered after it falls from the tree, but for commercial sale it is touch-picked – the fruit is gently pulled, and detaches from its stalk if mature. Fallen fruit is used for processing. The harvest period is from March to May.

How to cite this page:

Sandy Scarrow, 'Citrus, berries, exotic fruit and nuts - Tamarillos, passionfruit and feijoas', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 April 2024)

Story by Sandy Scarrow, published 24 Nov 2008