Luscious lychee: Sweet, fragrant, nutritious and easy to grow

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Young lychee fruits have prominent bumps on the skin, but as they mature, they plump up, which expands the skin and makes the bumps appear flatter.

IT is fortunate for me that my lychee tree, which I planted about four years ago, is now bearing fruit. It is bushy and not too tall, due to regular pruning to ensure that it would not be over seven feet (over 200cm) tall upon maturity.

Lychee is a tropical fruit known for its fragrance and sweet taste. It has a tough reddish-pink outer skin that conceals the juicy translucent flesh.

The imported fruits from China have thinner skin, without any hair.

Lychee is a good source of Vitamin C and antioxidants. It can aid digestion and fortify the immune system. It is also believed to have properties that fight off cancer cells.

There was this one who once told me that the seeds could be eaten as well. According to him: “They’re brittle and can be chewed like chocolate.”

I did it once and he was right – the seeds were brittle.

‘Litchi chinensis’

The botanical name is Litchi chinensis, belonging to the Sapindaceae (soapberry) family. The tree can grow up to a height of 5m, in a warm and humid climate.

Soil type plays a major role in successful cultivation. A lychee tree requires well-drained loamy soils, best for growth if it was nourished with organic matter and had low pH level of 5; decent if the soil was slightly acidic up to pH level of 6.5.

The plant is native to Southeast Asia, but the world-famous production centres are in southern China, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia.

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, lychee was introduced into the Western world when it reached Jamaica in 1775.

To a lesser extent, the tree has been cultivated in the Mediterranean, South Africa and also in Hawaii.

Lychee has many different names, and also different varieties. Some do not possess the identifiable rough red skin; the skin of such varieties is very soft and easy to peel.

The flesh can be eaten fresh, but it can also be canned, pickled, preserved in syrup, or dried

Propagation, cultivation

Lychee can be propagated from the seeds, but nowadays, with most of the fruits deriving from hybridised or the second-generation trees, they would not match those of the original parents, and also, fruiting may take a longer time.

It could take five weeks or more to germinate.

Recently, I asked three of my ex-colleagues to do ‘marcotting’ or air layering, on my lychee tree, where a branch would be made to produce roots while still attached to the parent plant.

This meant to ensure that the new planting materials would be the same as the parent’s.

In air-layering, a piece of bark is cut out from a mature branch, and covered with a rooting medium – it can be peat or sphagnum moss, together with some root hormones. Then, that spot is wrapped with polyethylene film.

Once the roots grow out, that branch section is cut and grown in nursery bags until the small tree is established enough for field planting.

As it is not a large plant, one can grow a lychee tree in the house garden or backyard, as long as there is enough sunlight and water.

For field-planting, the trees should be 15 feet (about 4.5m) apart from each other.

It is best to plant them during the rainy season, as water is essential for good growth.

On nutrient requirements, the good options are manure, calcium ammonium nitrate, super phosphate  or muriate of potash. Increasing the amount according to growth level.

As I have mentioned before, pruning can help control the height of the tree, to ease bagging and harvesting works as one would not need a ladder.

Remove damaged branches, and any diseased section must be cut off.

Harvest the fruits once the skin turns red or bright pink, and they are more swollen, making the bumps on the skin appear flatter – lychees do not continue to ripen after they are picked.

Another good thing about this plant is that it has no major pests apart from fruit fly and mealybug, which can be dealt with by using pesticides and insecticides.

Happy Gardening!