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Litchi (photo courtesy of Joshua McCullough/PhytoPhoto)
Litchi (photo courtesy of Joshua McCullough/PhytoPhoto)

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Zone
Zones 21-24, H1, H2
Full Sun
Full
Regular Water
Moderate

Litchi

Litchi Nut, Lychee
Sapindaceae
Evergreen, Edible fruit, Trees

Growing to 20–40 ft. tall and wide, this round-topped Chinese evergreen can bear thousands of brittle, warty fruits at once. When the easy-to-peel rind turns from green to red, harvest by snipping off whole clusters. The smooth, white edible portion inside looks something like a grape with a pit in the middle. The most desirable varieties have a small or shriveled seed known as a chicken tongue. The tree’s leathery leaves are coppery red when new, maturing to dark green; each has three to nine 3–6-in.-long leaflets. Tiny cream-colored flowers bloom in late spring. Trees are usually self-fruitful, but an individual tree may set more male flowers than female ones, reducing fruit production. Botanically, this is Litchi chinensis.

Fruit is sweet—juicy when fresh, raisin-like when dried. Varieties include small-pitted ‘Groff’, ‘Kaimana’ (the best variety for Hawaii), and ‘Kwai Mi’ (‘Mauritius’). ‘Sweet Cliff’ has a small to medium-size seed; the slightly more acidic ‘Brewster’ has a large one.

Litchi needs a frost-free site, acid soil, moist atmosphere, and light nitrogen fertilizer. It has fruited in a few coastal areas of Southern California; is reliable in Hawaii.

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