Kiwi Plant Identification: Determining Sex Of Kiwi Vine Plants

Kiwi is a rapidly growing vining plant that produces delicious, bright green fruit with a non-edible fuzzy brown exterior. In order for the plant to set fruit, both male and female kiwi vines are necessary; in fact, at least one male plant for every eight female kiwi plants is required. With a flavor somewhere between pineapple and berries, it is a desirable and attractive fruit to grow, but one question plagues the grower. How do I tell the difference between male and female kiwis? Determining the sex of kiwi is the key to understanding why the plant is or is not fruiting.

Kiwi Plant Identification

To determine kiwi plant gender, one must only wait for the plant to bloom. Ascertaining the sex of male and female kiwi vines lies in the differences between the flowers. Understanding the difference between male and female kiwi vines will determine whether the plant will set fruit.

Female kiwi plant identification will appear as flowers with long sticky stigmas radiating out from the center of the bloom. Additionally, the female flowers do not produce pollen. When determining the sex of kiwi blooms, the female will also have bright white, well defined ovaries at the base of the flower, which, of course, the males lack. The ovaries, by the way, are the parts that develop into fruit.

Male kiwi flowers have a brilliantly colored yellow center due to its pollen bearing anthers. Males are really only useful for one thing and that is making lots and lots of pollen, hence, they are heavy producers of pollen that is attractive to pollinators which carry it off to nearby female kiwi vines. Because the male kiwi vines do not bear fruit, they put all of their energy into vine growth and are, thus, often more vigorous and larger than their female counterparts.

If you have yet to purchase a kiwi vine or are just looking to ensure that you obtain a male for reproductive purposes, many male and female plants are tagged in the nursery. Examples of male kiwi vines are ‘Mateua’, ‘Tomori’ and ‘Chico Male’. Look for female varieties under the names of ‘Abbot’, ‘Bruno’, ‘Hayward’, ‘Monty’ and ‘Vincent’.

Arctic kiwi in fruit. Photo: University of Minnesota Extension

You planted a hardy kiwi (Actinidia arguta, zone 4b) or an arctic kiwi (Actinidia kolomikta, zone 3) a few years ago, and it hasn’t yet produced any fruit. Then you discovered you actually had to plant at least two kiwis, one male and one female, because the plant is dioecious (male and female flowers appear on separate plants). So you want to plant a spouse for your lonely kiwi, but you can’t find the label that (hopefully) indicated the plant’s sex. How can you tell if your kiwi is a male or a female?

You have to wait until it blooms. It’s really only by looking closely at the flower when it blooms in June—in fact, actually touching it!—that you can tell the two apart. Here’s what to look for:

Abundant stamens bearing yellow pollen show this plant to be a male. Photo: Apple2000, Wikimedia Commons

The male flower is filled with thin stamens topped in yellow pollen. When you touch them, yellow pollen sticks to your finger.

Female flowers have a cluster of sticky white stigmas in the center. Photo: Mnolf, Wikimedia Commons

The female flower produces flowers with peripheral stamens, but they’re sterile and don’t produce pollen. In the center, however, you’ll see white stigmas that project outward beyond the stamens and they’ll feel sticky to the touch.

There you go! Simple, isn’t it? But do have to check while the plant is in bloom.

Leaf Color Can (Sometimes) Help

The popular cultivar Actinidia kolomikta ‘Arctic Beauty’, a male, is grown as an ornamental for its variegated pink and white leaves. Photo: [email protected]

You can sometimes make a good guess about the sex of an arctic kiwi (A. kolomikta) by studying its leaf color. The most commonly sold cultivar, A. kolomikta ‘Arctic Beauty’, offers foliage heavily variegated white and pink … and it’s a male. You can therefore assume that if your kiwi is very colorful, it’s probably a male. However … female cultivars of A. kolomikta too are usually variegated to varying degrees and other male cultivars may be entirely green or only slightly variegated, so the color of the foliage is more an indication of plant’s sex than a proof.

Still No Fruit

You did plant at least one male and female, but it’s been years and there are no fruits yet. What’s going wrong?

Nothing, probably! Normally, hardy kiwis and Arctic kiwis are very cold-tolerant climbing plants that produce a lot of fruit, at least, when you have at least one male plant to pollinate up to 8 females. And they’re very adaptable when it comes to growing conditions: you could say, without too much exaggeration, that they’ll grow anywhere! Indeed, they thrive in just about any well-drained soil in both sun and shade.

So why then is it taking yours so long to produce fruit?

Here are a few possible reasons:

  1. It’s too young

If you want to grow kiwis, you have to be very patient. Most won’t even start to flower until they’re about 3 years old and even then, rarely bear fruit in any quantity until they’re 5 to 7 or even 9 years old.

  1. It’s not hardy enough

The typical supermarket kiwi, Actinidia deliciosa, isn’t hardy enough to produce fruit in many climates. JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons

Any kiwi grown in a colder zone than one for which it is recommended will likely never bloom as it flowers from new growth appearing from the previous year’s branches and if they are damaged or killed back by a cold winter, there’ll be no fruit. Therefore you have to plant your kiwi in a hardiness zone to which it is adapted.

The kiwifruit of our supermarkets, with its large hairy fruit, is called A. deliciosa (formerly A. chinensis) and it’s not hardy in cold climates. It grows best in hardiness zones 8 to 9, although it can sometimes succeed in zone 7. In the north, it will only fruit successfully a greenhouse.

The plant usually called hardy kiwi (A. arguta) is indeed quite hardy: usually to zone 4. Despite its hardiness, it’s not the best choice for regions with short summers, as the fruits take about 150 days to mature. Its fruits are small, green and smooth. There’s no need to peel them, just pop them in your mouth, like a grape!

Arctic kiwifruit (A. kolmikta) isn’t really from the Arctic, but it is the hardiest variety (to zone 3) and the best choice for northern gardeners. Its fruit ripens early as well, usually at the end of August or early in September. Its fruits are much like those of the previous species: small, green and smooth. Often, but not always, its foliage is variegated with white or white and pink, making this the most attractive kiwi.

  1. It’s a naturally poor producer

Curiously, the best-selling hardy kiwi by far is also the least likely to bear fruit!

‘issai’ is commonly sold in garden centers in areas where it simply won’t produce fruit.

The Japanese cultivar ‘Issai’, although sold as a hardy kiwi (A. arguta), is actually a less-hardy hybrid (A. arguta x A. rufa). It’s inevitably offered as the variety of choice for gardeners who don’t have enough space for two kiwi plants, a male and a female, because it’s said to be bisexual. (In fact, ‘Issai’ is 100% female, but is parthenocarpic: it can produce a limited number of fruits without pollination.) It is also said to begin to produce fruits at an exceptionally young age: only 2 or 3 years and is naturally a fairly small, weak grower, taking up less space than other kiwis.

All that sounds good, but it rarely lives up to its hype. While it may produce fruits without a male variety nearby for pollination, expect only a few fruits per plant per year… and expect none at all in colder regions. Although the stems may be hardy to zone 4b, it rarely blooms at all anywhere north of zone 6b and is only likely to be very productive in zone 7 or above. It can be very productive in mild climates, but only in the presence of a male hardy kiwi (A. arguta).

  1. The parent plants aren’t of the same species

When you plant a male kiwi and one or more female kiwis, they must be of the same species. In other words, a male arctic kiwi (A. kolomikta) will, under normal circumstances, only pollinate a female arctic kiwi and a male hardy kiwi (A. arguta) can effectively pollinate only a female hardy kiwi. If your male belongs to one species and the female, to another, you aren’t going to get fruit!

  1. There’s a lack of pollinators in the area

Bumble bees are the kiwi’s main pollinators. Photo: Buzzy Bee, Kiwi Flickr

Usually, bees pollinate kiwi flowers but not necessarily honeybees (Apis mellifera). Kiwi flowers don’t produce enough nectar for their taste, plus they prefer to visit flowers exposed to the sun, while kiwi flowers are hidden among the plant’s foliage. Bumble bees (Bombus spp.), larger hairy bees, are much more effective pollinators. In fact, kiwifruit farmers are increasingly using commercially-raised bumblebees as pollinators. Where bumble bees are absent, you may have to pollinate your kiwis manually.

  1. A late frost killed the flower buds

This happens when there is a severe frost while the plant is in bud or in flower. Curiously, there is a greater risk of frost damaging kiwi flowers in a mild climate, as plant growth starts up earlier there, even while a risk of frost lingers, than in cold regions, where flowering is naturally delayed until all danger of frost is usually over.

Essentially, hardy kiwis are very easy to grow, but you have to choose the right varieties, plant at least one of each sex of the right species and be very, very patient!

You can grow kiwi fruit from store-bought kiwi and enjoy the process if you have a little patience.

Growing kiwi from seed is not complicated but it will take between 3 to 5 years before you can take a bite into your home-grown kiwi fruit.

Don’t despair though, there’s plenty to enjoy until your first fruit harvest.

Kiwi’s are beautiful landscape vines!

Before I share instructions on growing kiwi from seed, I want to fawn over the beauty that is the kiwi vine.

Yes, kiwis are vining plants, although some of you may have envisioned a kiwi tree.

From a purely ornamental perspective, kiwi vines (especially the male kiwi) have soft, velvety, large, almost heart-shaped leaves.

The new stem growth can range from dark green to a luscious burgundy red, depending on the variety.

During the spring, both male and female kiwi vines bear prolific, white (sometimes creme-to-pale-yellow) flowers that, when fertilized, become the kiwi fruit.

The male flower is charged with pollinating the female flower and is equipped with pollen-heavy stamens that attract the “birds and the bees!”

The female flower has stamens though they are sterile and cannot pollinate themselves.

Upon close inspection, you can see the ovule and stigma whose “sticky disposition” helps hold the pollen.

Long story short, the kiwi vine makes a gorgeous landscape plant whether or not it ever bears any fruit!

Give the kiwi a strong support system and lots of room to grow as it can grow up to 30 feet long and will become extremely heavy.

I demonstrated how to grow kiwi from seed on the Home & Family show recently.

Here’s a recap of the information I shared along with some photos.

How to Grow Kiwi From Store Bought Fruit Seed

(Actinidia deliciosa)

Where do you get kiwi seeds?

Take a look inside the kiwi fruit.

See all the black seeds?

These are the seeds that you use to grow more kiwi plants.

There are hundreds of them and each of them are a potential new plant.

Buy kiwi fruit labeled “organic” at the store for stronger seed stock.

How many kiwi fruit grows from one plant?

A mature kiwi vine can produce more than 200 pounds of fruit.

One hundred or more pounds are possible from a single cold-hardy variety kiwi plant.

How to harvest and prepare the Kiwi seeds for planting:

1. Remove seeds from Kiwi fruit.
2. Place kiwi seeds and water in small blender to separate gooey membrane from seeds.
3. Wash seeds in sink using colander.
4. Places seeds on damp paper towel and insert into a plastic ziploc.
5. Place in a warm spot.
6. Check daily until you see that the seeds have sprouted. Make sure the paper towel stays moist at all times.
7. Tear paper towel into small pieces and plant a couple of the sprouted seedlings that are stuck to it into a small pot.

STAGE 1 – Several tiny kiwi plants in one pot starting to grow

There are many plants that are growing from the small spouts we planted in the container.

You can see tiny leaves.

Up to this point the plant was drawing from the stored energy in the seed to grow.

At this point I separated the little plants and placed two in each pot.

STAGE 2 – Kiwi plant is separated 2 per pot

At this stage, it will take about 3 weeks for the kiwi plants to grow more leaves and rely on photosynthesis or energy from sun to continue growing.

The plants need plenty of light and consistent moisture.

Shows STAGE 3 – 1 large plant per pot

When the plants start growing more leaves, I move them into individual pots because they will begin to grow fast!

Start fertilizing them with “starter fertilizer” to boost their nutrition.

STAGE 4 – 2 large, mature Kiwi vines – one is male the other is a female plant

When plants have grown this big, it’s a significant time because they will begin to flower and you can see if it is a “male” or “female” plant.

To grow Kiwi fruit, the female plant needs to be pollinated by the male plant.

Nature will take care of this, but you have to make sure you have at least 1 male plant for every 5 female plants for successful pollination.

Only female kiwi plants bear fruit.

The male plant only assists!

How can you tell from the flower which is male and which is female?

Male flowers produce pollen from the many stamens.

Female flowers have a well-developed ovary with long sticky stigmas in the center to hold the pollen.

Fun Facts About Growing Kiwi

“How long do you have to wait for first Kiwi fruits?”
3-4 years

“Can you grow Kiwi in cold areas?”
Yes. Cold hardy varieties can take 10-degree winter.

“What month do you harvest Kiwi fruit?”
September-October

“How big does one vine get?”
30 feet long!

Do you have any questions about growing kiwi?

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