Sunday, March 25, 2012

Litchi chinensis, the candy from China

In the Chinese restaurants worldwide they serve it like dessert in syrup. If you never proven it, I recommend it to you. It is an absolutely delicious fruit, coverall in fresh just taken of the tree.

Ripe fruits of lychee at the end of July.

During the last decades the import of these delicious Asian fruits has been increasing progressively and every time it is easier to find them in greengrocers of the western countries. Although the origin of this fruit tree is southern China, in Europe the majority of imported fruits come from Madagascar, Israel, Brazil and South Africa. It is cultivated from the antiquity in Asia, coverall in China, and also in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and the south of Japan. In the last years its culture to many other countries has extended worldwide, especially in South Africa, Madagascar, Israel, Australia, Brazil, Mexico and the United States (California, Florida, Texas and Hawaii). The Mediterranean basin has an ideal climate for its culture, reason why it is probable that in the next decades it is cultivated more and more in North Africa, Italy and the south and east of the Iberian Peninsula, coverall in Andalusia and the Levantine coast.

Litchi chinensis of 17 years old seeded in the spring of year 1995 in an orchard of orange trees of Majorca Island. It belongs to the Early Large Red variety, very cultivated in China for thousands of years. It is a very productive shrub that usually does not surpass the 4 meters of height. The photo was taken in the middle of March of year 2012. The tree finished surpassing three weeks of intense cold in which it remained place setting by a snow layer of 7 centimeters during five days. When the snow melted, the leaves and floral cocoons were intact.

Aspect of the leaves and floral cocoons after the heavy snowfall of February of 2012. The leaves of lychee are adapted to rainy climates. Its surface repels the water and its pendular disposition facilitates the fast sliding of rain, which prevents that the branches become broken under the weight of the water during strong tropical storms.

 As it happens with other many plants, there is a small controversy with its scientific name, because it was described and registered by two different botanists in an interval from few years. In 1782 the French botanist Pierre Sonnerat registered it as Litchi chinensis and nine years later in 1791 the German botanist Johann Friedrich Gmelin registered it as Litchi sinensis. The difference is in only two letters and both names mean the same: Litchi of China. According to the international norms of nomenclature of species the first registered name always prevails, reason why its scientific name must be Litchi chinensis Sonn.

Same previous Lychee 4 years before in May of 2008 in the heat of flowering.

 Although considered a tropical tree is very peculiar its necessity from intense cold with temperatures below +5ºC but above -3ºC during several weeks so that their yolks are transformed into floral buds. Below -4ºC litchi undergoes serious burns and dies to -5ºC. In warm winters with smooth temperatures without frosts the yolks are transformed into vegetative buds and in spring it does not bloom, branches and leaves only grow. This spring of 2012, after the intense snowfall of February, my lychee is loaded of floral cocoons and it will not take in open its first flowers. I wait for a great harvest of fruits in August.

Litchi chinensis flowers with a pollenizer bee sucking the nectar.

 Litchi chinensis blooms in clusters with hundreds of tiny flowers.

It belongs to the Sapindaceae family. It is the unique representative of the Litchi sort. Three subspecies are distinguished: 1--Litchi chinensis subsp. chinensis that grows in southern China, Bangladesh, Vietnam and Cambodia with thin branches, all the flowers with 6 stamens and crust of the fruits smooth or with protuberances of less than 2 mm, 2--Litchi chinensis subsp. oval philippinensis that live in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea with thin branches, flowers with 6 or 7 stamens, fruits with the crust covered with pointed protuberances of less than 3 mm and rarely cultivated and 3--Litchi sinensis subsp. javensis, that is only known cultivated in Malaysia and Indonesia with thick branches, flowers with 7 to 11 stamens and fruits of smooth surface with protuberances of less than 1 mm.

The flowers are composed of a white-pink or white-greenish basal disk arising six very long and divergent white stamens with an ovoid small beige color anther on the end. In the center of the disc is the female gynoecium with two carpels. Surrounding the reproductive organs several nectaries that produce nectar that attracts many bees. They lack petals.

Still green fruits at the beginning of July. 

Lychee loaded of ripe fruits in August of 2008. This year the winter was very cold and my small litchi gave me a great harvest of more than 9 kilos of great and substantial fruits. 

Detail of the branches with ripe fruits.

Litchi chinensis needs abundant irrigations during the months more drought the Majorcan summer. The calcareous soil produces it moderate chlorosis coverall in the very young trees. This problem is easily solved by providing the tree in autumn half a sack of manure or well rotted compost which acidifies the soil and in late winter, a bucket of water with iron chelate well distributed over the earth about two feet from the trunk.

Fruits of lychee in different degrees from maturation.

Detail of the previous fruits.

Magnificent lychees at the optimal time of maturation.

White and juicy aryl of above fruits after removal the skin.

Litchi chinensis seeds germinate very easily. They are due to seed immediately after removing them from the fruit, because if they are dried they lose the germination capacity quickly. I do not recommend to buy these seeds by Internet, because generally they arrive already past and they do not germinate. The same happens with the fruits of longan, Dimocarpus longan, another Sapindaceae like lychee. 

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