Here in the Pacific Northwest we are privy to a plethora of Asian markets and there’s nothing more fun than tooling around investigating every package, fruit and vegetable. There are so many that are unfamiliar, but that’s the fun of it. Take lychee fruit, for instance. What’s lychee fruit, you ask? How do you grow lychee? Read on to answer those questions and learn about growing lychee trees and harvesting lychee fruit.
What is Lychee Fruit?
Lychee fruit is a rarity in the United States, probably because it isn’t commercially grown on the mainland with the exception of small farms in Florida. Because of this, it isn’t any wonder you’re asking what is lychee fruit. While it isn’t commonly found here, it has been prized for centuries by the Chinese who passed it along to Burma in the late 17th century, who in turn brought it to India.
The tree itself, Litchi chinensis, is a large, long-living subtropical evergreen that bears fruit from May through August in Hawaii. The most notable of the soapberry family, Sapindaceae, litchee trees bloom in the late winter to early spring.
The resulting fruits are actually drupes, which are borne in clusters of from 3-50 fruits. The fruit is round to oval and 1-1.5 inches (25-38 mm.) across and a bumpy textured pink to red in color. Once peeled, the interior of fruit is whitish, semi-transparent, and juicy. Each drupe contains one shiny, dark brown seed.
Since the tree is subtropical, it can be grown in USDA zones 10-11 only. A beautiful specimen tree with its shiny leaves and attractive fruit, lychee thrives in deep, fertile, well-draining soil. They prefer an acidic soil of pH 5.0-5.5.
When growing lychee trees, be sure to plant them in a protected area. Their dense canopy can be caught up by the wind and cause the trees to topple over. The tree can reach 30-40 feet (9-12 m.) in height.
Recommended cultivars for fruit production include:
- Sweet Cliff
- Kate Sessions
- Kwai Mi Origin
Harvesting Lychee Fruit
Lychee trees begin producing fruit in 3-5 years. To harvest the fruit, allow them to turn red. Fruit taken when green will not ripen further. Remove the fruit from the tree by cutting it from the branch just above the panicle bearing the fruit.
Once harvested, the fruit can be stored in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. They can be eaten fresh, dried, or canned.
Lychee Tree Care
As mentioned, lychee trees need to be protected from wind. Proper pruning will also mitigate wind damage. While the trees will tolerate slightly water logged soil and light flooding for short periods, continual standing water is a no-no.
Give the tree regular watering and fertilize twice a year with an organic fertilizer. Other than minor maintenance, lychee tree care is fairly minimal and it will reward you with years of beauty and succulent fruit.