I’m always on the lookout for unusual adaptable landscape material. Recently a couple showed me their yard and on one edge was a beautiful hedge of pineapple guava. Even after our recent severe cold the foliage looked healthy. This excited me since we are roughly at its northern hardiness range.
Pineapple guava, sometimes called feijoa, makes a large showy hedge or it can be used as a specimen plant. Shrubs are roughly ball-shaped and grow 15 feet tall. Growth rate is relatively slow. They also perform well in a large container but will be much smaller.
Leaves are thick, oval and silvery green. They remind me a little of olives and emerge from the stems in groups of two. Being tightly packed on the branches, the foliage gives plants a thick full appearance. These shrubs respond well to heavy pruning but this reduces fruit set.
They perform best in full sun, but tolerate some shade, particularly in the hot afternoon. Plants adapt to a wide range of soil types and moisture regimes. Once established, feijoa tolerates drought well. However, with heavy fruit set they might benefit from some additional water in dry years. Individual plants will set fruit, but fruiting is better if there is crosspollination.
In spring the bloom is spectacular. Flowers remind me a little of fuchsia with their bright colors and similar shape. Petals are pink and the centers are bright red. Flowers are also edible and can be used on salads, as cake decorations or eaten like candy. They even make a great jelly. Birds love them too, so you might have to compete for them. Bees and butterflies flock to them too.
Oval fruits two to three inches long ripen in fall and are another plus. Fruits have a greyish-green skin and yellowish flesh. Full flavor resembles a mixture of tart pineapple, mango, strawberry and papaya. Gritty texture is similar to pears. Seeds are tiny and edible. Use fruits promptly after cutting or immerse them in lemon juice so they won’t brown.
Usually fruits fall when they are ripe and the insides become jelly-like and somewhat clear. A good way to harvest is to place a tarp under them and gently shake the shrubs to let the ripe fruits fall.
Each fruit is only about 25 calories and there are roughly 40 calories per half cup (100 gram) serving. They are also high in vitamin C. Lycopene, an antioxidant found in tomatoes is also present in pineapple guava.
One great quality of these shrubs is that deer leave them alone. Insects and disease aren’t normally a major issue either. They even tolerate salt spray fairly well and make a great windbreak. Being evergreen they are attractive in every season.
I think they have great potential for eastern North Carolina as they are tough and easy to grow. They also aren’t invasive and won’t take over an area. Slow growing shrubs are in demand and when they also are deer resistant that makes them even more intriguing.
Ted Manzer teaches agriculture at Northeastern High School.