Medium-sized evergreen tree, native to China, now widespread in cultivation in most of Asia, Central and Eastern America, Africa and Australia. These are long-lived trees, which in nature easily reach a height of 15-20 meters, with short erect stem, and dense foliage and roundish shape. The Lici have big finned leaves, formed by small leaves reminding those of the ficus, lanceolate, glossy, of dark green colour; in spring it produces several small white-green flowers, united in apical clusters.
The flowers are followed by the fruits, roundish, green, in hanging clusters; they ripen towards the end of autumn, assuming a pink or reddish colour. The fruits of lychees have a particular thin, rigid, easily detaching skin, showing a whitish, sugary and juicy pulp. Inside the fertile fruits there is a large oval stone, in the non-fertilized fruits the stone is smaller and crushed. The fruits of the lychee are grown fresh or dry, are also used to prepare jams or liqueurs.
This plant is also known as Chinese date.
Family and gender
Sapindaceae, gen. Lychee
Type of plant
Sandy or clayey
Medium, high ambient humidity
In the growing season every three months
White flowers, red fruits
For some years now in Italy has spread a very exotic fruit called litchi, also called the cherry of China. It is produced from Litchi chinensis, the only representative of its kind in the family of Sapindaceae, a tree with persistent leaves ranging from 10 to 25 meters high with dark gray bark on the trunk and reddish branches. The leaves are about 20 cm long and divided into opposite leaves. The terminal inflorescences are collected in pannicles on the new branches of the vintage.
The small flowers are white or cream and give off a strong scent recognizable from afar.
In about 3-4 months from flowering, the fruits ripen: they have an oval shape and the skin is initially green and then red. It is soft and with small tubercles. After harvesting, it quickly turns brown and dry. Inside there is a light yellow flesh, very fragrant that wraps around a large brown seed, inedible on average 2 cm long.
These trees originate in southern China, Malaysia and northern Vietnam and have been known since 2000 BC
The first Westerner to make a scientific description was Pierre Sonnerat on his return from a trip to Southeast Asia.
There are three main subspecies
– Lychee chinensis subspecies chinensis, the most known and widespread.
– Lychee chinensis subspecies philippinensis
– Lychee chinensis subspecies javensis
Especially from the first subspecies numerous cultivars have been obtained.
Given the pleasantness of its fruit (and its perishability) the cultivation is spreading in all areas with a suitable climate, even in other continents. Currently commercial cultivation is developing in India, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and also in some areas of California and Hawaii.
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These are tropical plants, to survive they need hot and humid summers and fairly dry winters. In Italy, they can be grown outdoors only in the southern regions, where, however, they hardly bear fruit. They prefer sunny positions, even if it is good to protect the young trees from the direct sun during the summer months. Mature trees can easily withstand short frosts.
In order to facilitate flowering and the consequent fructification, the lychee need a winter rest period, at temperatures close to 0. In nature, the lychee is a dominant plant in the forest. It grows higher than other trees in the same environment, reaching more light. This aspect must also be respected in cultivation. They should therefore be placed in full sun.
An exception can be made for small plants, within the first two years of age. It has been shown that the half-shade stimulates their growth more. In some countries, such as Israel, they are planted under large banana trees during the first few years. These have the dual function of shading them slightly and protecting them from strong winds, absolutely enemies of these plants.
They love regular and conspicuous watering, but avoiding to leave the soil permanently soaked in water; a couple of times a year it is advisable to bury the mature organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant. To keep the plants healthy it is necessary to grow them in a very humid climate, frequently vaporizing the canopy with demineralized water: an excessively dry climate quickly causes the loss of the foliage.
The cultivation of the Chinese date is not particularly difficult, but it is forcibly delimited in areas where the climate is ideal. In fact, it is a plant that requires a very specific environment to be able to grow and bear fruit at its best. In Italy it is not easy to find these conditions (especially for the great windiness), but in recent years have proved suitable for the cultivation of Lici some areas of Sicily, especially near Messina.
Chinese date specimens prefer loose and deep soils, well drained and very rich in organic matter. The specimens cultivated in pots should be repotted every two years, utilizing a good universal soil mixed with manure or slow release granular fertilizer. Under this aspect, they are quite tolerant vegetables. In the subtropical areas, they grow up well in sandy and well drained soils, whilst in the tropical zones, warmer, they prefer a richer soil, even if clayey or muddy.
They adapt well to different types of substrata, but give their best when they find one fairly rich in nutrients and organic substance.
However, they do not need particularly deep soils. They can live well even with a maximum depth of 40 cm.
It usually happens by cutting; it is possible to sow the fertile seeds of lychee, but it is good to sow many seeds, because the young plains are very sensitive to changes in humidity and climate; the plants obtained from seed can take even more than ten years before flowering.
Pests and diseases
They fear the attack of aphids and mites. Sudden changes in humidity or climate can quickly cause loss of foliage or flowers. Lychee are frequently affected by mites and insect larvae. The first ones hit the leaves, seriously debilitating the plant and ruining the harvest. The latter, on the other hand, in some cases feed on the leaves, while at other times they dig tunnels inside the branches. In most cases they fight with specific insecticides or acaricides.
More rarely they are victims of fungal diseases, even if they can happen especially in very hot and humid summers. Quite frequent is a specific type of rottenness, very debilitating. It occurs frequently in the case of poorly draining soils and heavy rainfall, for example in southern India.
Lychee is one of the most climate-sensitive fruit plants. It adapts very well to tropical and subtropical regions. The ideal are the areas where there is a short and cool winter where the daytime maximums do not exceed 20-22 ° C, but without frost. This allows the plant to have a period of vegetative rest. The winters, moderately cold (between 0 and 13°) and very dry, induce a very abundant spring flowering.
Summers, on the other hand, must be long and fairly hot (at least 25°) with abundant rainfall and high ambient humidity.
Below 20°C the plant grows very slowly, while at 15°C the vegetative activity stops completely.
The adult specimens can hardly stand temperatures below freezing and die if they reach -5 ° C. Young plants, however, are much more sensitive to frost than adult plants and already at 2° can be seriously damaged.
These trees require abundant irrigation throughout the growing season, especially if you want the harvest to be abundant; in fact, they tolerate well the drought even for 12 weeks, but inevitably the fruits suffer in quantity and quality.
However, what they always need during the growing season is high ambient humidity. They are able to draw water from the air and this gives them a lot of relief when the temperatures are very high. Nothing can damage them more than a heat that is both extreme and very dry. Usually it is the cause of rupture and fall of the fruits.
In winter, on the other hand, irrigation can be suspended or very reduced to allow the specimens to enter into vegetative rest.
Fertilisation should not be carried out too early. Usually the plants planted are left quiet for at least one year. Then, at the beginning of winter, a good quantity of mature manure or poultry manure can be spread on the ground. In the spring and then every three months, a good synthetic product should be distributed. In the first years it is good to administer one with a good quantity of phosphorus and potassium.
When the plant is adult, instead, it will be necessary to concentrate more on nitrogen to stimulate the annual growth of the fruiting branches.
The supply of trace elements such as zinc and boron is also very important. If the plant shows imbalances, it is advisable to use supplements.
As we said one of the sworn enemies of these plants is the strong wind. Alone or combined with heavy rainfall, it is the main cause of the premature fall of flowers and fruits. If you want to grow a specimen in a particularly exposed area, it is a good idea to set up windbreak barriers to give the plant at least a little ‘shelter.
The only pruning strictly necessary is the initial training pruning. During the first few years, it is advisable to clean the base and create an open-cone or expanded-cone shape. Afterwards, the only operations to be carried out will be those of cleaning any dead, damaged or growing branches in the wrong direction.
After harvesting the fruit, shorten the branches that carried them by a third so that they can return to grow and flourish again.
After the age of 15, if the fruits begin to be scarce and smaller than usual, you can decide to carry out a heavy pruning of renewal by removing the oldest branches to stimulate the tree to produce other totally new ones.
The lychee can be propagated either by gamic or agamic means. In the first case, the seed is used. It is not particularly difficult to geminate, but you have to think that first of all you will not get plants of the same quality as the mother. Generally, they will be less productive and less healthy. Moreover, before seeing a fructification will pass at least 10 years and the full production will not be reached before 25.
For this reason in China has always used the multiplication by agamic and in particular by layering. It is obtained by cutting a branch, preferably with a diameter of 2 cm. After leaving the engraved area in the air for a few days, it is wrapped in a plastic sheet containing sphagnum and moist peat, usually the roots are emitted within three months. At the end of this period the branch section can be separated from the mother plant and planted in a shady area.
Production starts on average after 5 years.
Lici, Chinese Date – Litchi chinensis: Properties and Uses
Lychee are very appreciated fruits all over the world for their sweetness and freshness. Unfortunately not everyone knows their true and full flavor because this fades quickly and therefore the transport deteriorates inexorably its qualities. In fact, it can be said with confidence that preserved or syruped products lose much of their initial qualities.
It is also for this reason that the cultivation of the plant is spreading all over the world: we try to give the opportunity to those who live in the northern hemisphere to fully recognize the qualities.
We can say that lychee provides a modest amount of calories (66 kcal per 100), but with a strong contribution of vitamin C (70 mg). There is also a good amount of minerals such as phosphorus and potassium.
Watch the Video
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