Lychee, Litchi chinensis, is a popular subtropical fruit native to China and may have been cultivated as early as 111 bc, where its name translates to “gift for a joyful life.” The fruit belongs to the same family as rambutan and longan and has similar flesh, but is better known than its siblings in the United States. Lychee production can be found in both Florida and Hawaii.
The outside skin of a lychee is inedible, bumpy, and can vary in color from pink to red when ripe. The inner fruit is whiteish, almost translucent, and similar in texture and appearance to grape flesh.
Lychees are most often peeled and eaten fresh for their sweet, floral flavor. The fruit is also added as a garnish to various food dishes and processed into juices, smoothies, or wines. When frozen, lychee can easily defrosted, peeled, and eaten.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, University of Florida Extension, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
There are many species of lychee grown across the world with 26 major varieties in China, 33 in India, as well as many more in Australia, Southeastern Asia, and the United States.
Depending on variety and environment, lychee trees can range in size from 20 to 30 feet in California or greater than 100 feet in tropical areas. Trees are extremely sensitive to temperature variations, which have limited its geographic spread. In Hawaii, preferred cultivars are Groff and Kaimana; in California, Bengal, Brewster, Groff, Hak Ip, Kate Sessions, Kuwait Mi, Mauritius, and Sweet Cliff are popular.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, University of California, University of Hawaii CTHAR.
PESTS & DISEASE
As lychee holds a very small share of commercial production in the United States, research into pests and diseases affecting the trees, foliage, and fruit is limited.
Moths as well as birds are known to attack lychee panicles and flowers. Scale can significantly affect lychee, attacking stems and causing dieback. Root weevils in the larval stage feed upon tree roots while adults feed on the leaves. Root weevil infestation can lead to reduced tree vigor and yields.
Nematodes can be disruptive to young lychee trees. Mites, including the leaf curl mite and red spider mite, as well as aphids and citrus aphids, can also be damaging during the growth cycle.
Anthracnose is a primary disease affecting lychee production; the Brewster cultivar is more at risk than others. Mushroom root rot can be potentially damaging to trees and is more likely if oaks were once planted in the area. Red algae causes rust or greyish-colored patches on trunk bark as well as bark splitting, impacting tree health.
References: UC Davis Postharvest Technology Center, University of California, University of Florida/IFAS Extension, University of Hawaii.