Fruit and Vegetables

Lici, Chinese Date - Litchi chinensis


Evergreen, medium-sized tree, originating in China, now widespread in cultivation in most of Asia, central-western America, Africa and Australia. These are long-lived trees, which in nature easily reach 15-20 meters in height, with a short erect stem, and dense, roundish foliage. Lici have large pinnate leaves, made up of leaflets reminiscent of ficus, lanceolate, shiny, dark green; in spring it produces numerous small white-green flowers, gathered in apical clusters. The flowers are followed by fruits, roundish, green, in hanging clusters; they ripen towards the end of autumn, assuming a pink or reddish color. The fruits of the lychees they have a particular thin, rigid peel, which comes off easily, showing a whitish, sugary and juicy pulp. Inside the fertile fruits there is a large oval core, in the infertile fruits the core is smaller and flattened. The fruits of the lychee are grown fresh or dried, are also used to prepare jams or liqueurs. This plant is also known as Chinese date.


Family and gender
Sapindaceae, gen. Litchi
Type of plant Evergreen tree
Exposure Full sun
Rustic no
Ground Sandy or clayey
Irrigation Medium, high environmental humidity
Composting In the vegetative period every three months
colors White flowers, red fruits
Propagation Seed, layering

For some years in Italy too a very exotic fruit called litchi has also spread, also called Chinese cherry. It should be noted that it is produced by the Litchi chinensis, the only representative of its kind in the Sapindaceae family, a tree with persistent leaves ranging from 10 to 25 meters in height with dark gray bark on the trunk and reddish branches. The leaves are about 20 cm long and divided into opposite leaves. The terminal inflorescences are collected in panels on the new vintage branches. The small flowers are white or cream and give off a strong scent recognizable from afar.
In about 3-4 months from flowering the fruits reach maturity: they have an oval shape and initially a green skin which then turns red. It is soft and with small tubercles. After harvesting it quickly becomes brown and dry. Inside there is a light yellow, very fragrant pulp that wraps around a large brown seed, inedible on average 2 cm long.
These trees originate from southern China, Malaysia and northern Vietnam and have been known since 2000 BC.
The first Westerner to describe them scientifically was Pierre Sonnerat on his return from a trip to Southeast Asia.
There are three main subspecies
- Litchi chinensis sottospecie chinensis, the most known and widespread.
- Litchi chinensis subspecies philippinensis
- Litchi chinensis sottospecie javensis
Especially from the first subspecies numerous cultivars have been obtained.
Given the pleasantness of its fruit (and its perishability) cultivation is spreading in all areas with a suitable climate, even on other continents. Currently the commercial cultivation is developing in India, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and also in some areas of California and Hawaii.


These are tropical plants, needing hot and humid summers and fairly dry winters to survive. In Italy they can be grown outdoors only in the southern regions, where they hardly bear fruit. They prefer sunny locations, although it is good to repair young trees from the direct sun during the summer months. Mature trees can easily withstand short frosts. To encourage flowering and subsequent fruiting, the lychees need a winter rest period, at temperatures close to 0. In nature the litchi is a dominant plant in the forest. Therefore it grows more in height than the other trees in the same environment reaching more light. This aspect must also be respected in cultivation. They should therefore be placed in full sun.
An exception can be made for small plants, within the first two years. Indeed, it has been shown that the partial shade stimulates its growth more. In some countries like Israel, during the first years they are planted under large banana trees. These serve the dual function of shading them slightly and repairing them from the strong winds, absolutely enemies of these plants.


They love regular and conspicuous watering, avoiding however to leave the soil perennially soaked with water; a couple of times a year it is advisable to bury a mature organic fertilizer at the foot of the plant. To keep the plants healthy it is necessary to cultivate them in a very humid climate, frequently vaporizing the foliage with demineralised water: an excessively dry climate causes the loss of the foliage rapidly.


The cultivation of Chinese dates is not particularly difficult, however it is forcibly bounded in areas where the climate is ideal. In fact, it is a plant that requires a very specific environment to be able to grow and bear fruit at its best. In Italy it is not easy to find these conditions (especially due to the great wind), but in recent years some areas of Sicily, especially in the vicinity of Messina, have proved to be suitable for the cultivation of Lici.


The Chinese date specimens prefer loose and deep soils, well drained and very rich in organic matter. The specimens grown in pots should be repotted every two years, using a good universal soil mixed with manure or slow release granular fertilizer. In this respect they are fairly tolerant plants. In the subtropical areas they grow well in sandy and well-drained soils, while in the warmer tropical areas, they prefer a richer, even clayey or slimy soil. They adapt well to different types of substrates, but give their best when they find one quite rich in nutrients and organic substance.
However, they do not need particularly deep soils. They can live well even with a maximum depth of 40 cm.


It generally occurs by cuttings; It is possible to sow the fertile seeds of lychees, but it is good to sow many seeds, because the young plains are very sensitive to sudden changes in humidity and climate; plants obtained from seed can also take more than ten years before flowering.

Pests and diseases

They fear the attack of aphids and mites. Sudden changes in humidity or climate can quickly cause the loss of foliage or flowers. Lychees are frequently hit by mites and insect larvae. The first ones hit the leaves seriously debilitating the plant and ruining the crop. The latter, on the other hand, in some cases feed on the leaves, other times they dig tunnels inside the branches. In most cases they are fought with specific insecticides or acaricides.
More rarely they are victims of fungal diseases, although they can occur especially in very hot and humid summers. Quite frequently it is a specific type of rot, very debilitating. It occurs frequently in the case of poorly draining soils and heavy rains, for example in South India.


Litchi is one of the most climate-sensitive fruit plants. It adapts very well to tropical and subtropical regions. The ideal areas are areas where there is a short and cool winter where daytime highs do not exceed 20-22 ° C, but without frosts. This allows the plant to have a period of vegetative rest. Winters, on average cold (between 0 and 13 °) and very dry induce a very abundant spring flowering.
Summers, on the other hand, must be long and fairly warm (at least 25 °) with abundant precipitations and high environmental humidity.
Below 20 ° C the plant grows very slowly, while at 15 ° the vegetative activity ceases completely.
The adult specimens hardly tolerate temperatures below the freezing level and certainly die if they reach -5 ° C. However, the young plants are much more sensitive to frost than to the adult ones and already at 2 ° they can be seriously damaged.


These trees require abundant irrigation throughout the growing season, especially if the crop is to be abundant; in fact they tolerate drought well even for 12 weeks, but the fruits inevitably suffer in quantity and quality.
This, however, always requires a high level of environmental humidity during the growing season. In fact, they manage to extract water from the air and this gives them much relief when the temperatures are very high. Nothing can damage them more than extreme heat and at the same time very dry. It is usually the cause of fruit breaking and falling.
In winter, on the other hand, irrigation can be suspended or very low to allow specimens to enter dormancy.


Fertilization should not be carried out too early. Usually the plants planted are left quiet for at least a year. Afterwards, a good amount of mature manure or manure can be spread on the ground at the beginning of the winter. In spring and then every three months a good synthetic product must then be distributed. In the early years it is good to administer one with a good amount of phosphorus and potassium. When the plant is grown it will instead be necessary to concentrate more on the nitrogen to stimulate the annual growth of the fruiting branches.
The intake of microelements such as zinc and boron is also very important. If the plant presents imbalances it is good to use supplements.


As we have said, one of the sworn enemies of these plants is the strong wind. Alone or combined with heavy rains it is the major cause of the premature fall of flowers and fruits. If you want to grow a specimen in a particularly exposed area it is good to set up windbreak barriers to give the plant at least some shelter.


The only strictly necessary pruning is the initial training. During the first years it is good to clean the base and create an open cone or expanded crown shape. Following the only interventions to be carried out will be those of cleaning from any dead branches, damaged or growing in wrong directions.
After the harvest of the fruits it is good to shorten by a third the branches that carried them so that they can return to grow and bloom again.
After the 15th year of age, if the fruits began to be scarce and smaller than usual, you can decide to carry out a heavy pruning of renewal by eliminating the oldest branches to stimulate the tree to produce others that are completely new.


Lychee can be propagated both via gamica and via agamic. In the first case, the seed is used. It is not particularly difficult to make moan, but we must think that above all we will not get plants of the same quality as the mother. Generally they will be less productive and less healthy. Furthermore, before seeing a fruiting, they will spend at least 10 years and full production will not be reached before 25. For this reason, China has always used multiplication via agamic and in particular by layering. It is obtained by engraving a branch, preferably with a diameter of 2 cm. After leaving the engraved area in the air for a few days it is wrapped in a plastic sheet containing damp sphagnum moss and peat, Usually the roots are released within three months. At the end of this period the branch section can be separated from the mother plant and planted in a shady area. Production begins on average after 5 years.

Lici, Chinese Date - Litchi chinensis: Properties and uses

The lychees are very appreciated fruits all over the world for their sweetness and freshness. Unfortunately not everyone knows their true and full flavor because this quickly fades and therefore transport inexorably deteriorates its qualities. Indeed, it can be said with confidence that preserved or canned products lose much of their initial qualities. It is also for this reason that the cultivation of the plant is spreading all over the globe: we try to give the possibility also to those who live in the northern hemisphere to fully recognize its qualities.
We can say that the lychee brings a modest amount of calories (66 kcal per 100), compared with a strong contribution in vitamin C (70 mg). There is also a good amount of minerals such as phosphorus and potassium.
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