Lychee, The Divine Fruit

I think angels eat lychees in heaven.  If you haven’t ever tried a fresh lychee, don’t turn it down at your next opportunity.  It’s lychee (Litchi chinensis) season in Southwest Florida and we are stuffing ourselves with them while we can.  When lychees are ripe, you have about 2 weeks to pick them off the tree.  The good news is that they freeze really well.  If you don’t peel them or break the skin and you put them in a freezer bag, they will taste just as good in 3 months as they do now.

A bunch of fresh lychee fruit.

The peeling easily comes off a lychee fruit.

A peeled lychee.

There are many different varieties of lychee.  The best tasting is a variety called “No Mai Tze”, but it only fruits every 4-5 years.  Most other varieties will give you fruit year after year if the tree is mature.  The younger trees are not as reliable.  There are several mature lychee trees growing in Immokalee, Florida that are about 60 years old and are loaded with fruit year after year. 

The best way to tell if the fruit is ripe is to taste it.  If it’s really sweet, it’s ripe.  That may sound silly, but color isn’t always indicative of ripeness.  There’s a variety that stays green when ripe.

Grayson had never tasted a fresh lychee before and could hardly wait to try one.  Our little lychee tree in our yard is too young to give us fruit so I took him to the home of the best lychees in America… Pine Island, Florida. 

Bokeelia on Pine Island, Florida.

The Treehouse Nursery on Pine Island has over 20 different varieties of lychees (and 80 different types of mangos).  The nursery has a small team of experts that have extensive and unsurpassed knowledge about growing lychee and mango.  If you’re ever in the area, be sure to check out their exotic fruit stand.  It’s open on the weekends during the summer season. We tasted 5 different types of their lychees. 

The Emperor lychee is huge and the tree has a high productivity.

The Ohia lychee is a medium size fruit. The productivity is high on this one too.

The Brewster lychee is a medium size fruit with a large seed.

The Bosworth lychee, also called Kwai Mia "Pink".

The Sweet Cliff is a cross between the lychee and the longan. It is a smaller fruit with a very high productivity.

A lychee tree that is planted from seed will take about 10-20 years to give you fruit.  Most of the trees at The Treehouse Nursery are air-layered by expert grafters.  This is the best way to start a backyard lychee tree. 

A lychee tree with fruit... the Sweetheart variety.

A lychee tree can provide a huge harvest of fruit in a season.

Lychee trees need quite a bit of water for the fruit to ripen.  When you see flowers, make sure it gets plenty of irrigation until after the fruit is all picked.  The tree doesn’t need as much water after that, but still needs it.  It isn’t drought tolerant.  They also need fertilizer on a monthly basis when growing the tree to the desired height.  Once the height is achieved, the tree should be fertilized monthly from the day you see flowers on it until the last fruit is picked.  After that, you can stop feeding it until you see flowers again. 

A lychee tree is best kept pruned at the desired height, which is usually about twelve feet.  The more you prune it, the less brittle the branches become.  It is also important to add about 6-7 inches of mulch around the base of the tree.  This insulates the surface roots.  Don’t put the mulch right up against the trunk though because it could harm the tree.

Great news about growing lychee in Florida… they’re not affected by nematodes.  The nematodes in Florida are a huge problem for growers.

Lots of lychee trees. I wish this were my yard. We're working on it.

If you do happen to make it to Pine Island, make sure you visit “Great Licks Ice Cream Shop”.  They’re right on Pine Island Road (in Matlacha) and they have the best homemade ice cream ever!  They’re open seven days a week until 8 p.m.  The fresh lychee shouldn’t be hard to find, they seem to be everywhere on Pine Island this time of year. 

Come grow with us!

15 Responses to “Lychee, The Divine Fruit”

  1. I am visiting the state of Florida this august 2010, can you please tell me where can I pick my own fruits like lychee, longan,or mangos farm in Florida? Thanks in advance.

    • Mangos and lychees will be in the South, Southwest and Southeast parts of the state (on the coasts). I don’t know of any “u-picks” for these fruits, as some of these trees grow very tall. I think your best bet will be to find a local farmer’s market. You could probably try checking Craigslist for the area you’ll be visiting. If you’ll be anywhere near Pine Island… that’s a sure bet to find fresh lychee & Mango. Sorry I couldn’t be more help.

  2. Thomas Wulff Says:

    My tree this year is loaded–how do you pick them?

    • Oh, wow. Lucky you! If your question is along the lines of how to reach them, I would recommend backing a pick-up truck to the tree and standing in the back of it. You could use long handled garden clippers and cut them down in bunches like grapes.

  3. Dethklok Says:

    Is Pine Island near the keys?I live near Boca and I’m looking for a good starter tree.What is the best lychee to get,sweethearts,Brewster?

    • Pine Island is on the SW coast of Florida. It would be a road trip from Boca. I bet there are some really nice fruit tree nurseries near you.

      Lychee is a matter of personal taste. Personally, I like them all. Do you have to grow just one?

      • Dethklok Says:

        Thanks,yeah that would be a hike lol
        I have found some nurseries nearby, Stuart has a lychee farm,as well as boynton,delray and Hollywood. Gonna check out some local nurseries. Just want to add some great tasting fruits for the future,and the shade is nice too! So far I have a loquat,and a longan, a lychee would be a nice addition. Years ago we lived on some land that had an old,huge lychee tree.I think I remember the word Brewster,or from pics I seen it may have been a sweetheart. Either way they’re great and will make a nice addition to the others.Thanks for the info.Hope to talk again soon.

  4. Ira D. Smith Says:

    My Emperor is a huge tree after 20 years growing. Got it from Henry Orth, who you might know. It is 90% seedless this year, as in other years. Is that normal of Emperor?

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  6. I was told to use 11-4-11 fertilizer…..which do you recommend

  7. Nusrat kabir Says:

    Can you plz tell me how should i order for lychees. Thank you

  8. do u know any place i can pick lychees in FL ?

  9. As a point of clarification. I live on Pine Island and have a lychee tree – most of the Lychee trees are on PRIVATE property. Please do not pick fruit off of people’s private trees. There are plenty of fruit stands that sell the fruit. As far as I know, there are no public picking places on the Island.

  10. The best picker for Lychees is made in Japan by ARS Corp. It is a little expensive, but it “cuts and holds” so the delicate fruit do not fall to the ground and crack open.

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