From the Manual of Tropical and Subtropical Fruits
by Wilson Popenoe
The Litchi and its Relatives
Lichi chinensis, Sonn.
Litchi Yield And Season
Litchi Pests And Diseases
While living in exile at Canton, the
poet Su Tung-po declared that litchis would reconcile one to eternal banishment.
Yet he did not allow his enthusiasm to draw him into gastronomic indiscretions,
for he limited himself to a modest three hundred a day, while other men (so he
says) did not stop short of a thousand.
Chang Chow-ling, an illustrious
statesman of the eighth century of our era, composed a poem on the litchi in
which he praised it as the most luscious of all fruits. Modern Chinese critics
fully concur in this opinion. Neither the orange nor the peach, two of the
finest fruits of southern China, is held to equal it in quality.
Nor is the litchi one of those
rare and delicate fruits known only to the favored few. In southern Asia, where
its cultivation dates back at least two thousand years, it is grown extensively
and millions are familiar with it. That it should still be unknown in most parts
of the western tropics is probably due to the perishable nature of the seeds.
Before the days of steam navigation, it was difficult to transport them
successfully from one continent to another.
"An orchard of litchis," wrote
the eminent E. Bonavia of India, "say of a few hundred trees, and with ordinary
care, would give a handsome and almost certain annual return for not improbably
a hundred years." While it has been considered that the litchi is somewhat
exacting in its cultural requirements, it can be grown successfully in many
parts of the tropics and subtropics. Now that it has been established in
tropical America, there is no reason why it should not there become one of the
common fruits, nor why fresh litchis should not be found on fruit-stands of
northern cities at least as abundantly as are the dried ones at present.
It is in
the form of dried litchis, "litchi nuts," that North Americans are usually
acquainted with this fruit. The Chinese who live in the United States import
them in large quantities, and are particularly prone to indulging in them at the
time of their New Year celebrations. But the dried litchi resembles the fresh
one even less than the dried apple of the grocery store resembles a Gravenstein
just picked from the tree. To appreciate its excellence, one must taste the
fresh litchi; although a fairly true estimate of it may be acquired from the
canned or preserved product, which much resembles preserved Muscat grapes in
Fruits of a good variety of the litchi. Kinds which are altogether seedless have
been reported, but in the best-known sorts the seed is about the size of the one
here shown. (X J)
Judging by the experience of the
past few years, it should be possible to produce litchis commercially in
southwestern Florida (the Fort Myers region), where there is relative freedom
from frost and where the soils are deep and moist. It is doubtful whether there
are any localities in southern California adapted to commercial litchi culture,
but trees have been grown at Santa Barbara and in the foothill region near Los
Angeles (Monrovia, Glendora). While the dry climate and cool winter weather of
California are unfavorable, it seems probable that litchis may be grown on a
small scale in this state, if planted in sheltered situations and given
protection from frost for the first few years.
Because of its value as an
ornamental tree, the litchi is recommended for planting in parks and gardens. It
grows to an ultimate height of 35 or 40 feet (less in some regions), and forms a
broad round-topped crown well supplied with glossy light green foliage. The
leaves are compound, with two to four pairs of elliptic-oblong to lanceolate,
sharply acute, glabrous leaflets 2 to 3 inches long. The flowers, which are
small and unattractive, are borne in terminal panicles sometimes a foot in
length. They are said to appear in northern India in February and in China
during April. The fruits, which are produced in loose clusters of two or three
to twenty or even more, have been likened to strawberries in appearance. In
shape they are oval to ovate, in diameter 1 1/2 inches in the better varieties,
and in color deep rose when fully ripe, changing to dull brown as the fruit
dries. The outer covering is hard and brittle, rough on the surface and divided
into small scale-like areas. The seed is small, shriveled, and ot viable in some
of the grafted varieties; in seedlings it is as large as a good-sized
castor-bean, and glossy dark brown in color. Surrounding it and separating from
it readily is the flesh (technically aril), which is white, translucent, firm,
and juicy. The flavor is subacid, suggestive of the Bigar-reau cherry or
(according to some) the Muscat grape.
Regarding the origin and early
history of the fruit Alphonse DeCandolle says: "Chinese authors living at Pekin
only knew the litchi late in the third century of our era. Its introduction into
Bengal took place at the end of the eighteenth century. Every one admits that
the species is a native of the south of China, and, Blume adds, of Cochin-China
and the Philippine Islands, but it does not seem that any botanist has found it
in a truly wild state. This is probably because the southern part of China
towards Siam has been little visited. In Cochin-China and in Burma and at
Chittagong the litchi is only cultivated."
Macgowan 1 recounts that litchis
were first sent as tribute to the emperor Kao Tsu about 200 B.C. These were
dried fruits, however; later fresh ones were forwarded by relays of men, and one
is happy to learn that though the cost in human life was frightful they reached
the emperor in good condition. The Emperor Wu Ti (140-87 B.C.) made several
attempts to bring trees from Annam and plant them in his garden at Chang-an, but
he was not successful in raising them.
According to Walter T. Swingle,
the first published work devoted exclusively to fruit-culture was written by a
Chinese scholar in 1056 a.d. on the varieties of the litchi.
The principal provinces of China
in which litchis are grown are Fukien, Kwantung, and Szechwan. In Kwangtung
Province alone the annual crop is said to be twenty million to thirty million
pounds, worth $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. The region around Canton is considered
the most favorable part of China for litchi culture. North of Foochow the tree
is not successful.
While litchis are by no means so extensively grown in
India as they are in southern China, there are several districts in which they
are produced commercially. The most important are said to be in Bengal; about
Muzaffarpur (in Bihar); and at Saharanpur (United Provinces of Agra and Oudh).
1 Journal of the Agri-Horticultural
Society of India, 1884, p. 195.
Bonavia says: "The tree does
admirably in Lucknow, and should do as well all over the northwestern provinces,
but it flourishes best, I believe, in Bengal. Who knows what untold litchi
wealth there may be in the fine black soil of the central provinces, so
centrally situated for fruit trade?"
In Cochin-China, in Madagascar,
and in a few other countries of the East, the tree is cultivated on a limited
scale. In Hawaii, where it is believed to have been introduced about 1873, it
has succeeded remarkably well, and much attention has lately been given to its
commercial cultivation, without, however, any large orchards having been
established as yet.
According to William Harris, it
was introduced into Jamaica in 1775, but it is still rare in that island. A tree
at Santa Barbara, California, which produced a few fruits in 1914, was the first
to come into bearing in the United States. While the litchi is believed to have
been planted in Florida as early as 1886, it was not until 1916 that the first
fruits were produced in that state. These were from plants introduced from China
in 1906. A few trees have borne in Cuba, Brazil, and other parts of tropical
The common name of this fruit is
variously spelled, - litchi, lichee, lychee, leechee, lichi, laichi, and so on.
Yule and Burnell state that the pronunciation in northern China is lee-chee,
while in the southern part of the country it is ly-chee. Since the form litchi
has been fixed as a part of the botanical name of the species, and since it is
employed extensively as the common name, it may be well to retain it in
preference to others. The pronunciation ly-chee, which is used in the region
where the fruit is grown, is generally preferred to leechee. Botanically the
plant is Litchi chinensis, Sonn. Nephelium Litchi, Cambess.,
is a synonym.
litchi is probably best as a fresh fruit, Frank N. Meyer says that it is
considered by some to be more delicious when preserved (canned) than when fresh;
and he adds: "No good dinner, even in northern China (where the litchi is not
grown) is really complete without some of these delicious little fruits." The
dried litchi tastes something like the raisin. Consul P. R. Josselyn of Canton
writes: "There are two ways of drying litchis, - by sun and by fire. The sun
dried litchi has a finer flavor and commands a better price than the fire dried
fruit." Only two or three varieties are considered suitable for drying.
the preserving industry, Josselyn remarks: "It is estimated by dealers that the
annual export of tinned litchis from Canton is about 3000 boxes, or 192,000
pounds. Each box of preserved litchis contains 48 tins, weighing 1 catty each.
Each tin contains about 28 litchis. There are five large dealers in Canton who
make a business of preserving these litchis. In addition to the preserved
litchis exported from Canton large quantities of the fresh fruit are shipped
from the producing districts surrounding Canton to Hongkong and are there
preserved in tin."
of the fresh fruit, made in Hawaii by Alice R. Thompson, shows it to contain :
Total solids 20.92 percent, ash 0.54, acids 1.16, protein 1.15, and total sugars
general it must be considered that the litchi is tropical in its
requirements. It likes a moist atmosphere, abundant rainfall, and
freedom from frosts. It can be grown in subtropical regions, however,
where the climate is moist or if abundant water is supplied, and where
severe frosts are not commonly experienced.
Young plants will
not withstand temperatures below the freezing point. In regions subject
to frost they should, therefore, be given careful protection during the
winter. The mature tree is not seriously injured by several degrees of
frost, but at Miami, Florida, plants six feet high were killed by a
temperature of 26° above zero.
Rev. William N. Brewster of
Hinghua, Fukien, China, describing the conditions under which the trees
are cultivated in that country, says: "They will not flourish north of
the frost line. They are particularly sensitive to cold when young. It
is the custom here to wrap the trees with straw to protect them from
the cold. After the trees are five or six years old they are less
sensitive, and it takes quite a heavy frost to injure them."
soil, G. W. Groff of the Canton Christian College writes : "The litchi
seems to do best on dykes of low land where its roots can always secure
all the water needed, and where they are even subjected to periods of
immersion. In some places they grow on high land but not nearly so
successfully." The Rev. Mr. Brewster says on this subject: "The trees
flourish in a soft, moist black soil; alluvium seems best. Near by or
on the bank of a stream or irrigation canal is best, though this is not
essential. Where there is no stream the trees should be watered so
frequently that the ground below the surface is always moist; about
twice a week when rain is not abundant should be enough. After the
young trees are well started, about two or three years old, the
irrigations may be less fre-quent."
These authorities are quoted
to show the conditions under which the litchi is grown in China.
Experience in other countries has shown the tree to be reasonably
adaptable in regard to both climate and soil. While it prefers a humid
atmosphere, it has succeeded in the relatively dry climate of Santa
Barbara, California, without more frequent irrigation than other
fruit-trees. On the plains of northern India, where the atmosphere is
comparatively dry and the annual rainfall about 40 inches, it is
cultivated on a commercial scale. Although the best soil may be a rich
alluvial loam, it has done well in Florida on light sandy loam. It has
not been successful, however, on the rocky lands of southeastern
Florida. Whether these lands are too dry, or whether the litchi
dislikes the large amounts of lime which they contain, cannot be stated
definitely. In undertaking to grow this tree, four desiderata should be
kept in mind : first, freedom from injurious frosts; second, a humid
atmosphere ; third, a deep loamy soil; and fourth, an abundance of
soil-moisture. When one or more of these is naturally lacking, efforts
must be made to correct the deficiency in so far as possible.
Frost-injury can be lessened by protecting the trees; low atmospheric
humidity is not badly prejudicial if the soil is abundantly moist;
sandy soils may be made more suitable by adding humus-forming material;
and a soil naturally dry may be irrigated regularly and frequently.
regions where the litchi tree grows to large size, it is not advisable
to space the plants closer than 30 feet apart, and 40 feet is
considered better. In Florida they can be set more closely without
harm; 25 feet will probably be a suitable distance. In localities where
frost protection must be given, it may be desirable to plant the trees
under sheds, and in this case economy will demand that they be crowded
as much as possible. At Oneco, near Bradentown, Florida, E. N. Reasoner
has fruited the litchi very successfully in a region usually considered
too cold for it, by growing it in a shed covered during the winter with
thin muslin to keep off frost, and opened in the summer. If it is
commercially profitable to erect sheds over pineapple-fields, - and it
has proved so in certain parts of Florida, -there seems to be no reason
why it should not be much more profitable to grow the litchi in this
way, in regions where protection from frost is necessary.
should be planted in holes previously prepared by excavating to a depth
of several feet, and incorporating with the soil a liberal amount of
leaf-mold, well-rotted manure, rich loam, or other material which will
increase the amount of humus. This is, of course, more important where
the soil is light and sandy, as it is in many parts of Florida, than
where the humuscontent is high. Basins may be formed around the trees
to hold water.
Bonavia writes: "As the trees grow, their thalas
or water-saucers should be enlarged and on no account should the fallen
leaves be removed from them, but allowed to decay there and form a
surface layer of leaf-mold. . . . Every hot weather thin layers of
about two or three inches of any other dried leaves should be spread
over the thalas, and allowed to decay there, to be renewed when they
crumple up and decay." This corresponds to the mulching generally
practiced in western countries. It has been remarked by several writers
that the litchi is a shallow-rooted tree, with most of its feeding
roots close to the surface. If this really is the case, mulching will
probably be an essential practice, and deep tilling of the soil will
have to be avoided.
Rev. Mr. Brewster says: "Fertilization is
important. Guano is probably as good as anything. The Chinese use night
soil. They dig a shallow trench around the tree at the end of the roots
and fill it with liquid manure of some sort. This is done about once in
three months." J.E. Higgins, 1 in his bulletin "The Litchi in Hawaii,"
notes that "Some growers prefer to put the manure on as a top dressing
and cover it with a heavy mulch because of the tendency of the litchi
to form surface roots."
The tree requires little pruning.
Higgins says : "The customary manner of gathering the fruit, by
breaking with it branches 10 to 12 inches long, provides in itself a
form of pruning which some growers insist is necessary for the
continued productivity of the tree." But a thorough study has yet to be
made of this subject in the Occident.
Hand-in-hand with the
development of litchi-growing in the American tropics and subtropics
will come the development of new cultural methods. The information at
present available is meager, and too apt to be characterized by the
generalities of the Hindu horticulturist: "Too much manure should not
be applied to newly planted or small trees. As the tree flourishes,
more and more manure should be applied," writes one of them, in a
treatise on litchi-culture. The literature of tropical pomology is
burdened with information of this nature, and the need is for more
specific data based on experience.
1Bull 44, Hawaii Agri. Exp. Sta., 1917.
of the litchi is commonly effected by two means : seed, and
air-layering (known in India as guti). Higgins writes on this subject:
seeds do not reproduce the variety from which they have been taken, and
as the seedlings are of rather slow growth and require many years to
come into bearing, it has for many years been the custom in China, the
land of the litchi, to propagate the best varieties by layering or by
air-layering, a process which has come to be known as 'Chinese
layering' and is applied to many kinds of plants. In air-layering, a
branch is surrounded with soil until roots have formed, after which it
is removed, and established as a new tree. In applying the method to
the litchi, a branch from 3/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter is wounded by
the complete removal of a ring of bark just below a bud, where it is
desired to have the roots start. The cut is usually surrounded by soil
held in place by a heavy wrapping of burlap or similar material,
although sometimes a box is elevated into the tree for this purpose.
Several ingenious devices have been made to supply the soil with
constant moisture. Sometimes a can with a very small opening in the
bottom is suspended above the soil and filled with water which passes
out drop by drop into the soil. Again, sometimes the water is
conducted, from a can or other vessel placed above the soil, by means
of a loosely woven rope, one end of which is placed in the water, the
other on the soil, the water passing over by capillarity.
is commenced at about the beginning of the season of most active
growth, and several months are required for the establishment of a root
system sufficient to support an independent tree. When a good ball of
roots has formed, the branch is cut off below the soil, or the box,
after which it is generally placed in a larger box or tub to become
more firmly established before being set out permanently. At first it
is well to provide some shade and protection from the wind, and it is
often necessary to cut back the top of the branch severely, so as to
secure a proper proportion of stem to root."
Regarding methods of
propagation employed in China, Groff says: "I have never seen a budded
or grafted litchi tree, and I understand it is never done. Litchi trees
are either inarched or layered, the latter being the most common and
most successful. If inarched it is on litchi stock. The common practice
in inarching is to use the Loh Mai Chi variety for cion and the San Chi
for stock."The method of layering mentioned by Groff is that described
above. Inarching is treated in this volume in connection with the
propagation of the mango. It is a tedious process of grafting little
used in America, but more certain than budding and other methods.
seeds are short-lived. If removed from the fruit and dried, they retain
their viability not more than four or five days. If they remain in the
fruit, however, and the latter is not allowed to dry, they can be kept
for three or four weeks. In this way they can be shipped to great
distances, or they may be removed from the fruit, packed in moist
sphagnum moss, and allowed to germinate en route. Some of the choice
grafted varieties, such as the Bedana of India, do not produce viable
Higgins recommends that the seeds be sown in pots sunk in
well-drained soil. They should be placed hortizontally about 1/2 inch
below the surface of the soil, and after they have germinated the
seedlings should be kept in half-shade.
Attention has recently been
given to the possibility of grafting or budding the litchi on the
longan (Euphoria Longana) and other relatives (see below). Higgins has
successfully crown-grafted the litchi on large longan stocks. He says,
"Repeated experiments with this method have shown that there is no
great difficulty in securing a union of the litchi with the longan. A
noteworthy influence of the stock on the cion should be mentioned here.
The growth produced is very much more rapid than that of the litchi on
its own roots, and in some cases the character of the foliage seems to
undergo a change." Additional experience is required, however, to show
the practical value of the longan and other stocks. The field is an
interesting one, and important results are likely to be secured.
Litchi Yield And Season
litchis have been known to bear fruit at five years of age. It is
commonly held that they should bear when seven to nine years old. In
some instances, however, trees twenty years old have failed to produce
fruit. Higgins remarks, "Wide variability in the age of coming into
bearing has been noted with seedlings of other tropical fruits,
especially the avocado, but the litchi appears most extreme in this
Layered plants tend to bear when very young. Sometimes
they will flower a year after planting, and mature a few fruits when
two years old, but three to five years is the age at which they
normally come into bearing.
The litchi is famed as a long-lived
tree. An early Chinese account (not necessarily to be credited)
mentions one which was cut down when it was 800 years old. Bonavia
considered that litchis should remain in profitable bearing for a
century at least.
Mature trees have been found in Hawaii to
yield 200 to 300 pounds of fruit yearly, and crops of 1000 pounds have
been reported. Under good cultural conditions, the tree can be expected
to produce a crop every year. Again quoting Bonavia, it may be said
that the tree "bears annually an abundant crop of fine, well-flavored
and aromatic fruits, which can readily be sent to distant markets.
Instead of being planted by ones or twos, it should be planted by the
In picking the fruit, entire clusters are usually
broken off, with several inches of stem attached. If the individual
fruits are pulled off the stems, they are said not to keep well. After
they are picked the fruits soon lose their attractive red color, but
they can be kept for two or three weeks without deteriorating in
flavor. The Chinese sometimes sprinkle them with a salt solution and
pack them in joints of bamboo for shipment to distant markets. At the
Hawaii Experiment Station it was found that "refrigeration, where it is
available, furnishes the best means of preserving the litchi for a
limited period in its natural state. . . . There is no doubt that
refrigeration will provide a very satisfactory method for placing upon
American markets the litchi crop grown in Florida, California, Hawaii,
Porto Rico, or Cuba."
The season of ripening in southern China
is from May to July. In northern India it is slightly earlier. In
Honolulu fresh litchis sell for 50 to 75 cents a pound.
Litchi Pests And Diseases
is known regarding the enemies of the litchi in China. Brewster says:
"There is a worm which makes a ring around the trunk under the bark.
When the circle is complete the tree dies; but the bark is broken by
it, and by careful watching this can be prevented before the worm does
serious harm. There is also a sort of mildew upon the leaves in certain
years that does much harm, and the Chinese do not seem to have any way
of dealing with it."
Several insect pests are reported from India. A small brown weevil (Amblyrrhinus poricollis Boh.), the larvae of a gray-brown moth (Plotheia celtis Mo.), and the larvae of Thalassodes quadraria Guen. feed on the leaves. The larvae of Crypto-phlebia carpophaga Wlsm. attack the fruits. Several species of Arbela (notably A. tetraonis Mo.) occur as borers on the tree.
has been found in Hawaii that the dreaded Mediterranean fruit-fly does
not attack the litchi fruit, except when the shell has been broken and
the pulp exposed. The litchi fruit-worm, the larva of a tortricid moth (Cryptophlebia illepida Btl.), is said to have caused much damage to the fruit crop at times. The hemispherical scale (Saissetia hemispherica Targ.) occasionally attacks weak trees. The larvae of a moth (Archips postvittanus Walker) sometimes injure the foliage and flowers. A disease which has been termed erinose, caused by mites of the genus Eriophyes,
has been reported from Hawaii, where it has become serious on certain
litchi trees. Spraying with a solution of 10 ounces nicotin sulfate and
1 3/4 pounds whale-oil soap in 50 gallons of water was found to
eradicate the mites.
Plate XVII. The litchi, favorite fruit of the Chinese.
the litchi has been propagated vegetatively from ancient times, it is
natural that many horticultural varieties should be grown at the
present day. Most of these, however, are unknown to the western world.
Recently they have been studied by Groff, and it is to be hoped that
the best will be brought to light, and their successful introduction
into the American tropics realized.
The variety Loh mai chi is
said to be one of the best in the world. It is grown in the vicinity of
Canton. Haak ip is another Canton litchi said to be choice. All
together thirty or forty kinds are reported from this region, some of
them being particularly adapted for drying, others for eating fresh,
and so on.
The varieties cultivated in India are not in all
instances clearly distinguished. The best known is Bedana (meaning
seedless), a medium-sized fruit in which the seed is small and
shriveled. Probably several distinct sorts are known by this name.
McLean's, Dudhia, China, and Rose are other varietal names which appear
in the lists of Indian nurserymen.