The lychee (Litchi chinensis, and commonly called leechi, litchi, laichi, lichu) (Hindi: लीची, līchī) (Chinese:荔枝, lizhi) is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It is a tropical and subtropical fruit tree native to China, and now cultivated in many parts of the world. The fresh fruit has a “delicate, whitish pulp” with a “perfume” flavor that is lost in canning, so the fruit is mostly eaten fresh.
Lychee is an evergreen tree, reaching 10–20 m tall, bearing fleshy fruits that are up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide. The outside of the fruit is covered by a pink-red, roughly-textured rind that is inedible but easily removed to expose a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh. Lychees are eaten in many different dessert dishes, and are especially popular in China, throughout South-East Asia, along with South Asia.
Lychee is cultivated in China, and in a narrow belt through Thailand, northern Vietnam, and northern India, particular Bihar which accounts for 75% of total production. South Africa and the United States (Hawaii and Florida) also have commercial lychee production.
Lychee has a history of cultivation, going back as far as 2000 BCE according to records in China. Cultivation began in the area of southern China, Malaysia, and northern Vietnam. Wild trees still grow in parts of southern China and on Hainan Island. There are many stories of the fruit’s use as a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court. It was first described and introduced to the west in 1782.
Red colored fruit with brittle, mottled skin, about 1-1.5" across, and ovaloid in shape. Beneath its thin skin is revealed white-translucent pulp with a uniquely sweet flavor. The lychee is a highly popular fruit in many parts of the world, and there are numerous varieties with varying flavors.
Description: Medium to large sized tree, often 20-40ft, but up to 100ft. Lychee flowers are borne on long inflorescenses and are either male, hermaphrodite-fruiting male (which have the best pollen), or hermaphrodite-fruiting female. All three types of flowers occur in sequence, though not necessarily in that order, in a lychee inflorescence.
Hardiness: Mature trees will withstand light frosts, but temperatures below 32F for prolonged periods of time may begin to damage or kill the tree.
Growing Environment: The lychee grows best in a partially subtropical climate, where temperatures are cool (32-45F) and dry for a few months during winter. The cold requirement does not seem particularly strict as long as there is some seasonal variability in temperatures. In ultra-tropical climates, the lychee may not fruit at all. Heavy rain, fog, as well as heavy winds are detrimental during flowering and fruiting periods.
Propagation: Can be grown from seed, although they will not come true to variety. May take 5-15 years to bear from seed. Good varieties are generally air-layered.
Uses: Eaten fresh, processed into ice creams, candies, and for desserts. Dried lychee’s are also eaten.
Native Range: Native to lowland areas in the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien, in Southern China. The lychee is now cultivated in many parts of Asia, Australia, and the America’s. There are commercial plantations in Florida, Hawaii, and to a limited extent, portions of Southern California. Air layers can fruit in 2-5 years.