Native to south-eastern china, the Lychee tree is an evergreen specimen that can grow to a height of 20 m. Best known for its fleshy fruits that ripen in summer, Lychee trees were imported to South Africa from Mauritius in the early 1870’s.
Litchis grow best in subtropical climates with high summer temperatures and low, frost-free winter temperatures. The major production areas in South Africa are in Mpumalanga, Limpopo and portions of Kwazulu-Natal. However, it is not unusual to see Litchi trees in the suburbs of Mbombela, where the fruit is picked by passers-by.
This slow growing tree is attractive with a dense, rounded crown. The leaves are smooth and glossy with a darker green colour on the surface, and a grey green hue beneath. Tiny, greenish white flowers are borne in terminal clusters during spring and are followed by the delicious fruits. The outside of the fruit is covered with an inedible, pink-red, roughly textured rind. This ‘skin’ is easy to remove and will expose the fragrant, white flesh that covers the seed. The taste of the Litchi is distinctive and the fruit is best eaten fresh.
Litchi chinensis can be utilised as a specimen fruit tree in the garden, but should not be planted in close proximity of building structures as it may have an extensive root system, depending on growing conditions. It can also be planted in large pots where it will provide a pretty backdrop to a kitchen garden.