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This family of 340 species of climbing shrubs belonging to 3 genera occurs in tropical regions of eastern Asia, northern Australia, and America. The family is best known for the kiwi fruit or Chinese gooseberry, which is derived from a plant loosely referred to as Actinidia chinensis (Mabberley 1997).

Because of its content of proteolytic enzyme, the kiwi fruit is a potential cause of contact dermatitis. Contact urticaria to the fruit has been reported.

Actinidia Lindl.

The genus comprises 40 species of twining climbers found in Indomalaysia and eastern Asia. A few, including Actinidia arguta (Siebold & Zucc.) Planch. ex Miq. (the tara vine), Actinidia kolomikta (Maxim.) Maxim. (the kolomikta vine), and Actinidia polygama (Siebold & Zucc.) Planch. ex Maxim. (the silver vine) may be found in cultivation as ornamentals.

The Chinese gooseberry or kiwi fruit is obtained principally from a single cultivar of Actinidia deliciosa (A.Chev.) C.F.Liang & A.R.Ferguson, namely cv. Hayward [the accepted name of which is now Actinidia chinensis var. deliciosa (A.Chev.) A.Chev.]; the fruits have hairy skin and green flesh. These are commonly but erroneously described as being the fruit of Actinidia chinensis. The fruit of true Actinidia chinensis Planch. is smooth rather than hairy and its flesh is usually more yellow than green. Commercial plantings of this and other species and cultivars will increasingly lead to the appearance of a diversity of Chinese gooseberries on the market (Ferguson 1999). Therefore, the literature needs to be interpreted with caution if the plant material in question has not been properly authenticated.

Actinidia chinensis Planch.
Chinese Gooseberry, Monkey Peach, Monkey Fruit

According to Stuart (1911), a decoction of the branches and leaves is used in Chinese traditional medicine for cure of mange in dogs. The fruit of this and other Chinese gooseberries is known as shan yang tao (山洋桃), mi hou tao (猕猴桃), or Fructus Actinidiae. A preparation of the root is known as teng li gen (藤梨根) or Radix Actinidiae Chinensis.

Actinidia chinensis var. deliciosa (A.Chev.) A.Chev.
[syns Actinidia chinensis var. hispida C.F.Liang, Actinidia deliciosa (A.Chev.) C.F.Liang & A.R.Ferguson, Actinidia latifolia var. deliciosa A.Chev.]
Chinese Gooseberry, Kiwi Fruit

The fruit of this taxon is a popular dessert fruit. Zina & Bundino (1983) reported immediate-type hypersensitivity to the fruit of Actinidia chinensis in a 20-year old female. However, it is likely that the report actually refers to the fruit of this taxon [see Actinidia Lindl. above]. Marked swelling and itching of the lips and tongue occurred within a few minutes of eating the fruit, together with gnawing pains in the stomach which lasted for about 30 minutes. A scratch test with the fruit pulp produced localised urticaria within 5 minutes which lasted for 30 minutes; the reactions in 10 controls were negative. Other reports in the literature link immediate hypersensitivity to kiwi fruit with allergy to birch and/or grass pollens or to latex allergy.

A proteinase, actinidin, is present in the fruit. It is one of the group of plant thiol proteinases to which papain, ficin, and stem bromelain also belong (Carne & Moore 1978). Actinidin is composed of at least two proteolytic enzymes (McDowall 1970).

Actinidia polygama (Siebold & Zucc.) Maxim.
[syns Actinidia inflammans Nakai, Trochostigma polygama Siebold & Zucc.]
Cat-Powder, Silver Vine, Silberrebe

[Information available but not yet included in database]


  • Carne A, Moore CH (1978) The amino acid sequence of the tryptic peptides from actinidin, a proteolytic enzyme from the fruit of Actinidia chinensis. Biochemical Journal 173(1): 73-83 [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Ferguson AR (1999) New temperate fruits: Actinidia chinensis and Actinidia deliciosa. In: Janick J (Ed.) Perspectives on New Crops and New Uses, pp. 342-347. Alexandria, VA: ASHS Press [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • McDowall MA (1970) Anionic proteinase from Actinidia chinensis. Preparation and properties of the crystalline enzyme. European Journal of Biochemistry 14(2): 214-221 [doi] [url] [url-2] [pmid]
  • Stuart GA (1911) Chinese Materia Medica. Vegetable Kingdom. Extensively revised from Dr. F. Porter Smith's work. Shanghai: American Presbyterian Mission Press [doi] [WorldCat] [url] [url-2]
  • Zina AM, Bundino S (1983) Contact urticaria to actinidia chinensis. Contact Dermatitis 9(1): 85 [doi] [url] [pmid]

Richard J. Schmidt

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