Fruit Facts from
California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
© Copyright 1996-2001, California Rare Fruit Growers, Inc.
Litchi chinensis Sonn.
Names: Lychee, Litchi, Leechee, Lichee, Lichi.
Distant Affinity: Akee (Blighia sapida), Longan (Dimocarpus
longan), Rambutan (Nephelium lappaceum), Pulasan (N. mutabile), Fijian
longan (Pometia pinnata).
The lychee is native to low elevations of the provinces of Kwangtung
and Fukien in Southern China. Cultivation spread over the years through
neighboring areas of southeastern Asia and offshore islands. It reached
Hawaii in 1873, and Florida in 1883, and was conveyed from Florida to
California in 1897.
Lychees require seasonal temperature variations for best flowering and
fruiting, Warm, humid summers are best for flowering and fruit
development, and a certain amount of winter chilling is necessary for
flower bud development. Most varieties need between 100 and 200 hours
of standard chilling (32° - 45° F). Cool winters with low
rainfall are ideal for lychees. The trees become more hardy as they
age. Mature trees have survived temperatures as low as 25° F when
fully hardened off. Young trees may be killed by a light frost. Lychees
can be successfully grown in frost-free coastal areas of California.
There are trees in San Diego, California that are over 90 years old
with no sign of decline in sight. It first fruited in Santa Barbara in
1914. They can be grown for a short period in a large container.
The lychee tree is handsome, dense, round-topped and slow-growing with
smooth, gray, brittle trunk and limbs. Under ideal conditions they may
reach 40 feet high, but they are usually much smaller The tree in full
fruit is a stunning sight.
The leathery, pinnate leaves are divided into four to eight leaflets.
They are reddish when young, becoming shiny and bright green. Lychee
trees have full foliage and branch to the ground.
The tiny petalless, yellowish-green flowers are borne in in terminal
clusters to 30 inches. Lychees are eye-catching in spring when the huge
sprays of flowers adorn the tree. Flowering precedes fruit maturity by
approximately 140 days.
The fruit is covered by a leathery rind or pedicarp which is pink to
strawberry-red in color and rough in texture. A greenish-yellow variety
is not grown in California at present. Fruit shape is oval,
heart-shaped or nearly round, 1 to 1-1/2 inches in length. The edible
portion or aril is white, translucent, firm and juicy. The flavor is
sweet, fragrant and delicious. Inside the aril is a seed that varies
considerably in size. The most desirable varieties contain atrophied
seeds which are called "chicken tongue". They are very small, up to 1/2
inch in length. Larger seeds vary between 1/2 to 1 inch in length and
are plumper than the chicken tongues. There is also a distinction
between the lychee that leaks juice when the skin is broken and the
"dry and clean" varieties which are more desirable. In some areas
lychees tend to be alternate bearers. Fruit splitting is usually caused
by fluctuating soil moisture levels.
Location: Lychees need full sun, but young trees must be protected from heat, frost and high winds.
The tree needs a well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. A
soil pH between 5.5 and 7.5 is acceptable, but plants grow much better
in soils with a pH at the low end of this range. Apply a thick layer of
organic mulch to the soil after planting.
The lychee will not tolerate standing water, but requires very moist
soil, so water the tree regularly when it is growing actively. The
trees are very sensitive to damage from salts in the soil or in water.
Leach the soil regularly in the Southwest.
Young trees tend to grow slowly, and many gardeners tend to give them
too much fertilizer in an attempt to push them along. Young trees
should receive only light applications of a complete fertilizer. Mature
trees are heavier feeders and should be fertilized regularly from
spring to late summer. Use fertilizers formulated for acid-loving
plants. Chelated iron and soil sulfur may be necessary in areas
with alkaline soils.
Prune young trees to establish a strong, permanent structure for easy
harvest. After that, removing crossing or damaged branches is all this
is necessary, although he trees can be pruned more heavily to control
size. V-shaped crotches should be avoided because of the wood's brittle
Lychees need warmth and a frost-free environment, but can often
withstand light freezes with some kind of overhead protection. When
they are young, this can be provided by building a frame around the
plants and covering it with bedding, plastic sheeting, etc. when frost
threatens. Electric light bulbs can also be used for added warmth.
Air-layering is the most common method of propagating lychees because
grafting is difficult and seedlings are not reliable producers of
quality fruit. To grow a plant from seed it is important to remember
that seeds remain viable for no more than a day or two under dry
conditions. Young seedlings grow vigorously until they reach 7 or 8
inches in height. They will stay at this height for up to two years
without further noticeable growth. Wedge and bud grafts are possible,
but seldom used.
When planting a Lychee, hole preparation is the
same as for planting avocados. If planting marcots directly, most
leaves should be removed. A round of hog wire covered with plastic
gives excellent wind protection and also holds moisture in. In case of
a freeze, one has only to throw a blanket over the top. The plastic
should not touch the plant. This protection should be planned on and
taken care of the day the plant goes into the ground.
Pests and Diseases:
Mites, scale and aphids occasionally infest lychees. Birds are often
attracted to lychees, eating both the immature and the ripe fruit. It
may be necessary to cover the plants with a protective netting.
The Fruit must be allowed to ripen fully on the tree. Overly mature
fruit darken in color and lose their luster. The flavor lacks the
richness associated with a certain amount of acidity. To harvest, snip
off entire fruit clusters, keeping a short piece of the stem attached.
Lychees can be stored for up five weeks in the refrigerator. They can
also be frozen or dried. Lychees will begin to deteriorate within three
days at room temperature.
Medium, bright red, borne in clusters of 6 to 20. Ripens April
to May. Slow-growing tree. Bears regularly in warm climates.
by USDA in 1929 from Calcutta. Fruits are similar to Brewster but more
elongated with smaller seeds. Firm flesh. Dry and clean type. Large,
very vigorous tree. Easy to grow.
conical or wedge-shaped red fruit with soft flesh. Slightly acid with
fully formed large seeds. Commercial crop in Florida. Mid-season
fruiting. Large, vigorous, upright tree.
dull red, spiny, borne in clusters of 20 to 40. Small seed. Ripens
August to September. Latest ripening variety. Upright tree.
Medium-red fruit sometimes with green tinges with soft skin. Flesh is crisp sweet and occasionally pinkish.
red fruit with green tip and typical green line. Exceptional flavor and
fragrance. In the past was a fruit given to person of honor. Dry and
Mauritius (Kwai Mi)
Ripens early. Medium size, slightly oval, reddish-brown fruit.
Firm, good-quality fruit. Tends to have chicken-tongue seeds.
No Mai Tsze
Large, red, dry and clean type. Leading variety in China. Small seeds. One of the best for drying.
Fruit ripens early. Somewhat egg-shaped, bright red, rough skin.
Crisp, sweet, firm flesh. Leaks juice when skin is broken.
Morton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm Climates. Creative Resources Systems, Inc. 1987. pp. 249-259.
Maxwell, Lewis S. and Betty M. Maxwell. Florida Fruit. Lewis S. Maxwell, Publisher. 1984. pp. 57.
Ortho Books. All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. Chevron Chemical Co. 1985. pp. 55-57.
Popenoe, Wilson. Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits. Hafner Press. 1974. Facsimile of the 1920 edition. pp. 312-325.
Samson, J. A. Tropical Fruits. 2nd ed. Longman Scientific and Technical. 1986. pp. 300-302.