Bring on the hardy kiwi

From Robert Whitcomb's "Digital Diary'' column in

The Boston Globe ran a fascinating article on Jan. 9 (“The hardy kiwi: scourge or savior for farmers?’’) about afruit, called a “hardy kiwi,’’ related to the famous fuzzy kiwi you can find in supermarkets. The hardy kiwi has a smooth skin and is smaller than its fuzzy cousin. It’s  also delicious and, reports The Globe, has “twice the vitamin C of an orange, twice the dietary fiber of an apple and as much potassium as a banana.’’

But of particular interest here is that is hardy enough to grow very well even in most of New England. It could become quite a cash crop.

The trouble is that some people, such as at the Audubon Society, see the plant, which is a fast-growing vine, as an invasive species that would strangle some woodlands as has kudzu, which has been moving north with global warming.  So there’s a campaign underway to add hardy kiwi to the state’s prohibited plant list. Of course, you could say that all plant and animal species (especially people!) are originally invasive. Life spreads around, whether we like it or not

Trying to ban the plant would be a mistake. For one thing, there’s little evidence that that it would take over a lot of woodland. Foes point to hardy kiwi’s proliferation in a section of Lenox, Mass., but that’s because the plants there are basically remnants of those used ornamentally at the big Gilded Age estates in the Berkshires a century ago after they were brought in from Japan.  There’s no indication that they’ve been spreading willy-nilly across New England inthe past century!

Finally, the hardy kiwi offers the opportunity for New England to have another – and very healthy – product, like cranberries and blueberries. Now, another invasive species – bittersweet – is quite another thing.  It spreads very fast and doesn’t produce anything you can eat.


And New England’s hardy kiwi may not have to be so hardy in coming years. Climate scientists at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Northeast Climate Science Center predict that New England’s temperatures will rise by an average of 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by 2025 –  a faster rise than in most places. Scientists cite New England’s position in the prevailing westerly winds, the region’s latitude and dramatically warming temperatures in the Gulf of Maine as among the reasons.

This is another wake-up call to reduce carbon emissions and to prepare coastal regions for higher sea levels and thus disastrous flooding. One good step would be ending at least the current version of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), which subsidizes irresponsible building, mostly by affluent people, on beaches (and some flood-prone inland places).

Lloyd’s,  the giant London-based insurance market, has called on the federal government to stop providing these subsidies to homeowners and businesses to build in coastal areas exposed to risks related to climate change.

And Lloyd’s says that NFIP subsidy regime is financially unsustainable. The program is now in the red by more than $24 billion, largely because of such coastal flood disasters as Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, and Superstorm Sandy, in 2012. It will probably get worse.