Spanish: lichi, quenepa china
French: céresier de la Chine, litchi de Chine
Haiti: quenepe chinois
Origin and Distribution
South China. Cultivated throughout the tropics and subtropics, but especially in China, India, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Madagascar, Nepal, South Africa, Australia, Mauritius and Reunion. In the United States, lychee is cultivated in Florida, Hawaii and California.
Dimocarpus litchi, Litchi sinense and Nephelium litchi.
Small to medium tree, to about 35 feet (11 m), with a symmetrical, dense, round or oval crown. Leaves glossy green, alternate, compound with 2-9 lanceolate leaflets. Flowers small, whitish or greenish, in terminal or axillary panicles. Three types of flowers are present: staminate, hermaphrodite that are functionally staminate, and hermaphrodite that are functionally staminate. The fruit is round to oval, about 2 inches (5 cm) long and 1-1.5 inches (2.5-4 cm) wide, with a rough reddish exterior. The pulp is white, translucent and juicy, with an aromatic, sweet-sour taste. Each fruit has a single dark brown, shiny seed, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long, which easily separates from the pulp.
Propagation and Culture
Lychee is propagated by seed, cuttings, grafts and air layers. Seeds lose viability rapidly, and must not be allowed to dry out. Seedling trees may take up to 20 years to produce, so are usually only used as rootstocks. Lychee is not easy to graft, but cleft grafts, side veneer and budding have been used successfully. Cuttings may be rooted under mist, but the resulting trees are very small, and must be grown out. Air layering is the most common method of propagating the lychee, and results in large trees in a relatively short time.
Trees grow best in a fertile, well drained soil, and should be fertilized twice per year, once in the spring and once after fruit harvest. The optimum soil pH is 5.5-6.5. Lychee is a subtropical fruit, adapted to areas with warm, humid summers and cool, dry winters. In tropical regions, flowering is very erratic, but may be induced by girdling the large branches in September (Northern Hemisphere). Fertilization should also be avoided in the fall and winter months to encourage dormancy and development of flowers instead of foliage. In the Northern Hemisphere, lychee flowers from February to April and the fruits mature from May to July. A mature tree can produce from 120-250 pounds (54-113 kg) of fruit per year.
Cultivars and Related Species
There are more than 50 cultivars of lychee in China, but the diversity is more limited in other countries. The following are some of the more common varieties in Florida, Hawaii and Puerto Rico:
‘Amboina’ - Probably from Indonesia. Fruit red, medium, sour unless very ripe, and subject to cracking. Fruiting is fairly regular in the tropics.
‘Brewster’ (‘Chen Tze’) - From China, with a large, red fruit of excellent quality. The tree is vigorous. Fruiting is erratic in the tropics.
‘Groff’ - Developed in Hawaii. Small, red fruit with a large number of chicken tongue fruits. Late, fairly regular in the tropics.
‘Hak Ip’ (‘Haak Yip’) - From China. Medium sized fruit, red, sweet and of excellent quality. Foliage is a dark green color (the name means “black leaf”) and fruiting is fairly regular.
‘Kaimana’ - Developed in Hawaii from a seed of ‘Hak Ip’. The fruit is large, red, and of good quality. Fruiting is fairly regular in Hawaii.
‘Mauritius’ (‘Tai So’) - From China. The most important variety in Florida and South Africa. The fruit is large, red, and of good quality. The tree is vigorous, productive and fairly regular.
There are two subspecies of Litchi chinensis. Litchi chinensis javensis is from Malaysia and Indonesia, and flowers and fruits well under tropical conditions. The other is Litchi chinensis philippinensis, which has an inedible fruit.
Lychee fruits are consumed fresh, canned and dried. They are also used to make ice cream, juice, candies and wine.
Nutritional composition per 100 g lychee fruit
Lychee is used as a beautiful ornamental tree. It also has various medicinal uses. The crushed seeds are used to alleviate pain and for intestinal problems. A tea from the fruit peel is taken to control diarrhea. Root, flower and bark extracts are taken as a treatment for sore throat. The roots show anti-cancer activity.
More information on lychee
From Julia Morton’s Fruits of Warm Climates.
A great article with a lot of cultural information and cultivar descriptions.
Another great article, oriented toward the tropical conditions of Hawaii.
An excellent reference with detailed information on all aspects of lychee production.
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