An attractive and rare sub tropical fruit tree that bears a luscious red fruit, the Lychee originated over 2000 years ago first in the north tropical rainforests and mountain forests of Southern China, where it is a dominant tree species.
Selecting a Source for Your Fresh Lychee Fruit
If you are lucky enough to live in an area with a lychee grove nearby that is always the best place to get fresh, just-picked lychees. U-picks are getting more popular in south & central Florida and more growers are taking this route rather than going through the challenge and aggravation of getting their fruit commercially picked and packed. There may be some in your area. If you know someone with a lychee tree in their yard, the homeowner will usually sell you or maybe even give you some fruit.
A great place to get fresh lychees is at the store in our grove. We are open 7 days a week, all day long, during the fresh lychee fruit season (May – June) and by appointment the rest of the year. You can pick your own fruit if you want or relax in our air conditioned store sipping a cold glass of lychee ice tea while we provide the fruit for you. If you’ve never tasted a lychee before you can sample some of the different varieties before you buy.
Our store is located at 3141 SW 118th Terrace in Davie Florida. Click on the following link for directions: Get Directions
The Internet has a handful of websites advertising fresh seasonal lychee fruit. Most of these vendors are small growers like us who hand-care for their trees and fruit. Online lychee vendors usually ship the fruit to you within 24-48 hours. Contrary to what many lychee lovers think, the Internet is actually the best way to get the freshest lychee fruit aside from buying them from a local grower. You can go to our online store at: Buy Fruit Online
Keep It in the Country
Avoid buying any lychees from Mexico, Taiwan, China & Israel or other growers outside the United States. Other countries that produce lychees don’t subject growers to the same tough agricultural regulations that U.S. growers face. You have no idea what kinds of chemicals these foreign growers use to control pests, kill weeds, and preserve the picked fruit (sulfur dioxide in particular).
Not only is the issue of pesticides and preservatives a concern, but when you purchase fruit that competes directly with Florida farmers you are hastening the day when there will no longer be any fresh tropical fruit grown in South Florida. Besides the problem of devastating hurricanes, rising real estate values tempt growers to sell out to developers when they cannot get fair market value for their fruit.
Specialty / Oriental Markets
Specialty markets can sometimes be a good source of fresh lychees, especially in very small quantities where the shipping cost of ordering on the Internet doesn’t make sense. Don’t buy the fruit on display in the market, unless it looks particularly fresh, as it may have been sitting in the store for a few days. Specialty markets usually buy their lychee fruit either locally or wholesale on the Internet so when the fruit arrives at the store it is still fresh.
Find out when the store will be receiving their lychees and go to the specialty store that day to buy yours. If the specialty store can’t tell you when they will be getting fresh lychees try to get them to call you when they do. You can even try to place a special order with the market if you can’t get your fresh lychees on the Internet.
Stay Out of the Store
The worst place to get fresh lychees is at the local grocery store. The fruit at the grocery store may already be a week old. The lychee fruit has usually spent a few days finding it’s way from the grower to the fruit packer to the grocery store’s local distribution network and finally to the grocery store shelf for sale to the local consumer. Most produce buyers for grocery stores don’t know a whole lot about tropical fruit and they buy the cheapest lychees rather than the highest quality fruit. If you want your lychees fresh, don’t buy them from a grocery store.
5 Stages of Lychee Fruit Development
Lychee trees typically begin to flower in the early winter months and continue to bloom throughout the months of January, February and March.. Lychee flowers appear as a 12 to 30 inch clusters containing both make and female flowers on the terminal ends of hardened off new growth. If there has been sufficient chilling and dryness during the winter then there will generally be a larger portion of bloom instead of simply new growth.
Male flowers are the first to emerge and open. The fruit forms from the female flower that opens later than the male. When the flower is pollinated the ovary begins to swell. This is what becomes the actual lychee fruit.
As the small lychee fruit develop many of the fruits will drop off of the tree from wind and some simply from natural attrition. A variety of insect pests can damage the stem on the newly developing fruit leading to drop off.
Fruit begin to develop some coloration in late April and May. The commercial Mauritius varieties are the first fruit to show this sign of ripening followed by the Brewster fruit in Late May and early June. If you pick and attempt to eat a slightly pink fruit you will find the taste to be somewhat tart. This is the stage when most lychee growers pick and sell their crop.
If the Florida rainy season is delayed by a week or two, the fruit will not begin to size up. If there is a sudden rainfall after a prolonged dry period many of the fruit on the tree will split. Split fruit attract insects and birds and lead to collateral damage on adjacent fruits.
This is the stage that we are all waiting for. With the advent of the summer rainy season (around mid-May in Florida) the fruits will begin to swell with juice and produce lots of sugars. Unlike many other tropical fruits, much of the size of a lychee is determined in the very last stage of development, just prior to its peak ripeness.
An excellent indicator of ripeness in lychees is the flattening of the bumps on the surface of the skin, caused by the fruit swelling with juice and fructose (fruit sugar – mmmmmm). The dark red color (almost purplish) is a good indicator of maturity along with fruit size (minimum of 25 mm in diameter.)
Lychee Varieties (Cultivars)
The predominant commercial lychee varieties grown in South Florida are the Brewster and Mauritius.
While there are many different varieties of the lychee fruit, most of these unusual varieties are relegated to private collections and backyard gardens.
The Hak ip lychee, introduced into South Florida just prior to hurricane Andrew, has experienced widespread commercial plantings and is just now beginning to come into significant production.
The Ha-Kip is arguably the ideal lychee in that it embodies all of the desirable characteristics that growers and aficionados desire: large size, great flavor, a tiny seed and darker red coloration.
In our grove we also have the Bengal, Ohia, Sweet Cliff and Emperor varieties.
Of these varieties the most interesting is the Emperor which produces an enormous unusual looking fruit of superior taste. The only problem with the Emperor is that the tree is very slow growing and there are not commercial quantities available.
If the late fall Florida weather is dry and cool lychee trees will begin to flower in December (occasionally you might see some bloom in November) and continue to flower and set fruit through the month of March.
Lychee trees are monoecious. This means that an individual tree produces both male and female flowers; a situation that differs among varying types of tropical fruit trees.
Certain tropical fruit trees produce perfect flowers with male and female sexual parts (guavas, passion fruits, atemoyas, sapodillas and citrus) while other types have trees of separate sexes (genips and date palms).
When Brewster’s first begin to bloom they produce predominantly male flowers on a long panicle and as the season progresses female flowers mature and open (the ovary of the female flower is what eventually becomes the fruit).
Unfortunately, a large bloom does not always translate into a bumper crop. This coupled with the fact that lychee trees often bear fruit inconsistently influences the value of the fruit.
Identical trees given identical cultural conditions will display completely different fruiting characteristics.
Lychee growers throughout world continue to research the factors that influence productivity and there still is not a definitive answer on how to guarantee a good crop.