LYCHEE NUT ­ Litchi chinensis ­ Sapindaceae
by Alfredo Chiri

Donated by: CRFG/Stillman and planted in 1979 (r.f.-02)

Common names: Lichi, Laichi, Lechia, Litchi, Quenepe chinois, Lychee, Leechee 

The litchi is a handsome round-topped tree native to the low elevations of the provinces of southern China. The earliest record of the tree was 1059 A.D. in China. 

The litchi is a slow-growing tree, 30 to 100 feet high, with a dense round top. The evergreen leaves are dark green and glossy on the top, with gray-green underside, and 2 to 3 inches long.

The tree has three types of flowers: male, hermaphroditic fruiting as male, and hermaphroditic fruiting as female. Many of the flowers have defective pollen. The tiny flowers, borne in terminal clusters, are greenish-yellow to white. 

The fruit is showy, oval, heart-shaped or round, and is borne in loose clusters of 20 to 30. It is usually strawberry red, sometimes pink, is aromatic and has leathery skin. Under the skin is a clear juice and then flesh, which somewhat resembles the inside of a grape. The flavor is sub-acid and distinctive. In a few days the fruits dehydrate naturally, the outer skin becomes brown and brittle, and the flesh becomes dry and shriveled like a raisin, somewhat musky in flavor. Because of this tendency, the fruits became known as "lychee nuts." This is a misunderstanding. They are not nuts, and the seed is not edible.

Litchi¹s seedlings do not reproduce true to the original "mother" tree, and most will not have viable seeds. Litchi seeds remain viable only 4 to 5 days, and seedling trees will not bear fruit until they are 5 to 25 years old. Seeds are planted primarily to be used as rootstock.

The litchi tree is difficult to graft because the cambium is active only during the earliest stages of secondary growth, and thus most trees are air-layered. An air-layered tree has a weak root system. However, it has been said that the litchi tree is not in its prime until it is 30 to 40 years old. Many of them continue to fruit until they are 100 years old.

The litchi grows well on a wide range of soils. The pH should be between 6 and 7. It is advised that young litchi plants should be planted in raised beds so that they have perfect drainage but the soil is always moist. Even though the litchi has a high water requirement, it cannot stand water-logging, but it will stand occasional brief flooding.

Young trees benefit from wind protection by creating a windbreaker in their proximity, making sure that the tree gets full sun. Once the trees become established, they become structurally high wind-resistant. Remember that in their natural habitat they have withstood typhoons.

Newly planted trees must be watered but not fertilized. The adult tree should be fertilized only twice a year with organic material. Limestone may be necessary to avoid chlorosis.