Selected Trees and Shrubs
Litchi chinensis, Syn.: Nephelium litchi; Common name: Litchi, Lychi, Litchee
Description: Medium to large, slow-growing tree, 10-20 m tall (30-60 ft), and almost equally broad, with dark gray stem; leaves glossy, alternate and pinnately compound, 4-8 leaflets; leaflets oblong to lanceolate, up to 20 cm long (8 in); flowers, born in terminal inflorescences up to 30 cm long (12 in), are greenish-white to yellowish, pollination by insects; fruit a drupe, born in loose, pendant clusters, 2-30 per bunch; are usually red, sometimes rose, pinkish or amber, round or heart-shaped, up to 4 cm wide (1.5 in), with rough, leathery skin; single large seed with edible, fleshy, white, juicy, sweet aril, of very pleasant flavor, highly desirable worldwide; single large specimen in Gardens, located at bottom of ramp to 35-Steps opposite Balsam tree; referenced in the Jones Guide of 1924 at that location; it has been there continuously, and so, though damaged by hurricane, must be at least 85 years old;this particular tree rarely flowers and is not known to fruit, apparently needing the stress of a cooler winter season; fruit photos are illustrative.
Plant Family: Belongs to the Sapindaceae or Soapberry family, which includes the Ackee (Blighia sapida), Kenip (Melicoccus bijugatus), and Savonette or Soap Tree (Sapindus saponaria).
Origin and Distribution: Native to South China, and grown in several areas of the subtropics, and in higher latitudes and elevations of the tropics; there are numerous varieties suited to different microclimates; in China and India, where most of the world production is located, the Litchi is grown between 15° and 30° N.; in the tropics it will fruit successfully at higher elevations with cooler winter months; in Jamaica, for example, good crops are obtained in the Mandeville area with its high elevation (2100 ft/645 m) and cool season (65-70 degrees F)
Natural Habitat: Primarily subtropical and high latitude tropics; flourishes in regions where summers are hot and wet, and winters dry and cool, especially along rivers and near the seacoast; likes deep alluvial loam, but grows well on a wide range of soils; propagation usually by air-layering, with bearing in 2-5 years; trees continue bearing up to 100 years; seed-propagated plants do not reproduce faithfully, and take much longer to bear; and the choicest varieties have non-viable seed.
Uses: Grown primarily for its delicious fruit, but sometimes as an ornamental yard-tree for its dark green, shiny leaves and beautiful bunches of red fruit; medicinal uses include eating the fruit in quantity to relieve chronic coughing and stomach ache, fruit-peel tea taken for smallpox and diarrhea, and powdered seeds used to relieve neuralgic pain.
Indigenous Legends and Anecdotes: Cultivated in South China for thousands of years; many consider the Litchi one of the most delicious of fruits.
Robert A. DeFilipps. Useful Plants of the Commonwealth of Dominica, West Indies. Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 1998
Julia F. Morton. Fruits of Warm Climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. 1987
Anon. [Joseph Jones?]. Official Guide to the Botanic Gardens, Dominica. Kew Gardens, London 1924?
William C. Kennard and Harold F. Winters. Some Fruits and Nuts for the Tropics. USDA, Washington, DC 1960.
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