Welcome to my new blog article series Eclectic Edibles, where we take a deep dive into the delights of the not-so-common fruits and vegetables, that we think everyone should absolutely try or at least be aware of.
Today's underappreciated niche fruit is the feijoa, also known as pineapple guava, or Acca sellowiana. This South American native is, in my opinion, a horticultural delight and testament to nature's creativity, and the fruit itself can be quite an adventure of different flavors. It's also been, in our experience, a pleasure to grow with few pest or disease issues so far, and with multiple varieties growing and producing good quality fruit regularly in our greenhouse, with only a bit of protection from our cold USDA Zone 6B winters.
If you enjoy strawberry, kiwi, or pineapple, I think you would probably enjoy this fruit. There are so many reasons to grow it ornamentally, that I'm just flabbergasted that they are not more commonly grown and widely known. I'd wager with appropriate public outreach, that almost anywhere crepe myrtles are planted and do well without dying back, people would probably find more reason to plant this (in my opinion) more beautiful, useful, and productive Myrtaceae member!
Feijoas - From South America to the World At Large
The feijoa hails from South America, in places like Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Argentina. Over time, the feijoa has traveled, finding new homes in the Mediterranean, New Zealand, and the United States in particular.
Interestingly, feijoas seem well adapted to handle colder winters than their native range would suggest. Research shows feijoa can withstand temperatures as low as 25°F when mature (and possibly lower), even remaining evergreen below freezing for a surprising amount of time. In our greenhouse at 22°F, feijoas were unfazed and had no leaf drop or shoot dieback. Pineapple guava seems at home in warm temperate environs, even being primarily a subtropical plant. Although my experience seems to corroborate this, keep in mind that cold hardiness is not based on any one factor, but many, and the underlying mechanisms are often poorly understood.
Even more interesting, fruit quality and yield seem affected by temperatures during fruiting - with cooler temperatures during fruiting possibly contributing to sweeter, but perhaps smaller fruits overall.
The Feijoa Tree: An Easy Grower
The feijoa is an excellent tree for fruit enthusiasts and people that enjoy aesthetically pleasing plants all the same - Its silvery green leaves with an evergreen nature means it's adding a dash of color and excitement to gardens in almost every season. Adaptable and hardy, it can tolerate a variety of soil conditions, which is great news whether you're a novice gardener or have a seasoned green thumb.
For soil, I find that ours grow well in a slightly acidic high porosity potting mix with a healthy addition of perlite and some bark fines if potted, but they've apparently not had much issue adapting to our native rocky and clayey soil after being planted in the ground, either. They seem to prefer moderately moist soil, but have been relatively drought tolerant for us as well. I have heard from others that it is very important to make sure they are getting enough water after the initial stages of fruit set especially, for maximum fruit size and quality. We set ours up on drip irrigation, and only irrigate them while they are fruiting, and quit towards the last of the fruits dropping. I'm not sure if this is optimal, but fruit production for us seems OK so far.
As far as pests go, we've been lucky - we've only encountered scale and ants (and some occasional sooty mold related to these) as a minor issue so far. Ours grow in a relatively high humidity environment year-round. I'm aware in more subtropical and tropical regions where feijoas are grown, that fruit flies and similar insects can become an issue. Also be aware that fruit drop onto a rough or rocky substrate (the fruits are not usually picked but fall from the tree when ripe) can dramatically shorten the lifespan of the individual fruits if the skin is bruised or especially pierced.
The Taste and Texture of Feijoa Fruit
Scooping out or biting into a feijoa can be an interesting experience, the likes of which can vary a ton from cultivar to cultivar, and even from fruit to fruit on the same tree. If I had to describe the taste using other fruits, I'd imagine it as a mix of strawberry, guava, and pineapple with sometimes a light trace of mint—that's what a feijoa compares closest to, in my opinion. The texture is also an interesting one, with fully formed fruits containing a gel-like center "locule" that contrasts nicely with the slightly grainy flesh near the skin, not unlike a pear. The grainy outer part of the fruit (except for the skin) is my favorite, as it tends to be more tart, flavorful, and pleasantly grittier than the jelly-like center, that often tends to be more sweet and less complex to my tastes.
I find that the flavor of the fruit can also be different depending on which part you're eating, and how close to the skin the flesh is. The skin, although edible, is not my favorite, but also varies in taste from variety to variety - and my wife seems to rather enjoy the skin along with the fruit. Cutting open a feijoa is as easy as jamming a spoon into the side and prying it open when it's ripe! I feel the eating experience most closely resembles that of a good kiwi.
Feijoa Flowers: They're Not Just for Show
One of the feijoa tree's charming surprises is its flowers. These beauties, with their white and pink petals and striking red stamens, are not only a visual treat but also edible. They add a sweet, slightly spicy flavor to salads or can be used as a unique garnish. Just remember not to pick the whole flowers, but only the petals - this allows for eating of the feijoa petals, but still yielding fruit later!
For hand-pollinating and breeding purposes one can emasculate, or remove the stamens (male parts) of the flowers, leaving just the female ovary and stigma alone in the middle of the flower to later bear the feijoa fruit. The stigma can be pollinated usually within a day or so of the flower having opened - when receptive, it is sticky enough to receive pollen granules from the anthers of nearby flowers, or even better, another cultivar of feijoa for cross-pollination and supposedly improved fruitset.
Growing Feijoas: Tips and Tricks
Feijoas are pretty flexible when it comes to growing conditions. They love sunny spots and well-drained soils, but they're also pretty cold-hardy and can generally withstand temperatures as low as 20-25 degrees Fahrenheit (possibly much lower) for a time.
While some feijoa cultivars are self-fertile, having more than one tree can increase fruit yield, and unless you know the variety you are growing is indeed self-fertile, I would make efforts to ensure cross-pollination. I would absolutely recommend hand pollinating if you grow feijoas in containers or in such a way that pollinator insects and/or birds cannot handle this aspect naturally, such as in a screened-in porch or greenhouse. I have noticed a positive correlation between yield and fruit size after making sure to hand-pollinate the flowers with pollen from at least other flowers on the tree. Results (yield, fruit size) could possibly be improved a bit by using pollen from more distantly related varieties while hand-pollinating - I aim to research more on this at a later date and will post another, more in-depth article when/if I have enough data to confirm this hunch.
My favorite and most recommended feijoa tip/trick : The flower petals are not only beautiful, but they are very sweet and tasty! One of my favorite things to do in late spring / early summer is to go around the greenhouse with a little paintbrush, which I use to hand-pollinate each flower (making sure to use pollen from other flowers, or better yet, other varieties!) all while eating the petals!
You can give each flower petal a gentle tug away from the developing fruit (the ovary in the center of the flower is what eventually will become the fruit if pollinated) - this yields a wonderful cinnamon-y and sweet snack (feijoa petals), while ensuring a great fruit harvest later on in the year by hand-pollinating the flowers.
This also prevents the flower petals from molding, if growing in a high humidity environment like a greenhouse, which could potentially ruin some developing feijoa fruits (we learned this the hard way).
Keep in mind pineapple guava fruit doesn't last too long after it drops from the tree after ripening, especially if it gets bruised. To our taste, we find that the acidity in the fruit rapidly drops off after a few days when storing them at room temperature, so we like to eat them within a day or so of the fruits from most varieties having fallen to the ground.
Propagating Feijoas: Getting More of a Good Thing
Feijoas can be propagated from seeds, but for a quicker and more reliable result, consider propagation by grafting. This way, you're sure to get a tree that's true to the parent plant's characteristics. I've read air layers can work over time, but it seems that most feijoas sold today are either grafted using some sort of veneer or side graft, or seedlings. I hope to soon learn the wonderful art of feijoa grafting and more feijoa propagation methods soon, and plan on practicing these methods a ton on seedlings that I'm growing out now.
An article from University of Florida states that the wood is somewhat hard, and splits easily, so it may not be the easiest plant to graft for novices.
I've read conflicting information on propagating feijoas by cuttings - I plan on experimenting a bit with cuttings and air layers on various parts of my trees, but so far I haven't had any luck with any of it, except for growing seeds. I'm going to eventually try a few methods I've read others have used with some success, and see what works best for us.
There are various online vendors of feijoa cultivars and seedlings - I'd highly recommend getting some of the newer cultivars available, as feijoa does not have a long history of breeding efforts, and from my understanding, the newer cultivars (and future breeding efforts) are likely to yield much better and larger fruit, and sooner than seedlings, too.
I definitely don't want to discourage people from their own breeding efforts or growing out seeds from feijoas - pineapple guavas seem very easy and fun to raise from seeds! However, keep in mind it may be a long time before they yield any fruit, and the fruit could be tiny and perhaps not nearly as good as the parent. The jury's still out on how "true" from seed they grow. I'd imagine there is quite a lot of genetic variability, but I have also read comments of some other growers that are adamant traits seem to run strong in certain lineages of feijoas.
I am currently growing out quite a bit of seedlings from the various cultivars we have - definitely not enough for a deep understanding, but I feel like it might be important to know what more of an average, generic feijoa is like in order to more better judge what makes a superior feijoa fruit cultivar actually better.
Potential Health Benefits
Feijoas are more than just tasty—they're packed with nutrients. They're rich in beneficial compounds like phenolic acids, flavonoids, dietary fiber, vitamin C, potassium, and essential oils. Early studies suggest these nutrients may support feijoa's supposed antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as having interesting antimicrobial effects due to their composition.
However, it's important to note that feijoas also contain soluble oxalates, so moderation may be needed, especially for those sensitive to or susceptible to issues arising from consumption of oxalates.
There has been a history of use of this fruit by some indiginous peoples for various gastrointestinal ailments, but I do not know enough to confirm that this is a good usage of any part of the plant or fruit.
It's a nice thought that Including feijoas in your diet may very well help boost your immune system, aid digestion, and contribute to overall wellness. The Myrtaceae family does include many other healthy and wonderful fruit trees and shrubs, like pomegranates (Punica), eugenia, and guavas (Psidium and Campomanesia).
Skin On or Off?
To eat the feijoa skin or not—that's a question with no wrong answer. Some enjoy the slight bitterness and tanginess of the skin as a counterpoint to the sweet flesh, while others prefer their feijoas peeled. It's really up to your personal preference. I just cut them in half with a spoon or knife, and scoop out the insides like a kiwi, leaving the skin behind.
A pleasant drink can be made from steeped or fermented feijoa skins, so you may not want to throw those away!
Feijoas in the Kitchen Are A Culinary Adventure
As mentioned, feijoas are a versatile ingredient that can add a unique twist to various dishes. They're great in fruit salads, can be turned into a tangy jam, or even in a salsa, or baked into a delicious cake. Their unique flavor can kick your culinary creations up a notch with very bright and fruity flavors that can go right along with a lot of things common to the kitchen.
If you find your feijoa jam a little sweet and one-dimensional, the addition of a little lemon or lime juice can go a long way to increase the complexity and balance of it.
I'd imagine one could make great culinary use of the feijoa flower petals in various confections, or as an especially eyecatching and beautiful addition to a salad. They have an excellent, sweet but almost cinnamon finish, that is very unique and enjoyable.
I also think various things like ice cream, smoothies, and even fermented products could be benefitted by or made from this fruit. One of these days I may get around to making a post about the various culinary uses of this wonderful fruit!
Pineapple Guava Varieties
My current experience growing and consuming feijoas is limited to a few varieties so far - Apollo, Nikita, Takaka(tm), Kaiteri (tm) and various seedlings. They can vary drastically in taste and especially texture and fruit size.
My least favorite has been Nikita - in some years when the summer and fall is hot, it seems like it does not handle the heat during fruit production as well, and in extreme cases some fruit can have a sweet, but funky, overripe tropical fruit flavor. Not only that, but compared to the other cultivars I've mentioned, it seems like the fruits from that cultivar are universally sweet, which is not to my liking, and fruit size is rather small when compared to other varieties.
Keep in mind this is just our experience with one in-ground tree, and our poor experience with it could be for a variety of reasons and perhaps not a fault of the cultivar itself. Even if I'm not the biggest fan of eating the fruit fresh from this variety, we still love cooking the fruits from it down (and squeezing/mixing a little lemon or calamondin juice into it) - it usually ends up making a nice spread that goes great with toast, etc.
My favorite cultivar so far has been 'Apollo', for it's strawberry-pineapple-kiwi taste with a nice sweet and subacid balance, and great production and fruit size. I'm very excited to be able to try the Takaka and Kaiteri, and for the various seedlings I have gotten from my hand pollination efforts. I'm even more excited to see what various breeders come up with in the future.
Wrap Up: Celebrating the Feijoa
The feijoa might not be as well-known as apples or oranges, but it's a fruit that deserves a spot in the limelight. With its wonderful flowers, pleasing bark, a fruit with unique flavors and potential health benefits, and tons of culinary versatility, it has become one of my personal favorite harvests that my family and I look forward to every year.
If you're interested in growing easy-to-grow fruit trees and shrubs, you might just find feijoas becoming your favorite all-in-one edible ornamental or landscaping tree!
Thank you for reading - Stay tuned and check back later for more posts about Eclectic Edibles and other content on our blog