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Lychee branch with ripe fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae
Genus: Litchi
Species: L. chinensis
Binomial name
Litchi chinensis

The Lychee (Litchi chinensis) is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family Sapindaceae. It is a tropical fruit tree native to southern China, where it is known as (pinyin: lìzh ), south to Indonesia and east to the Philippines, where it is known as Alupag.

It is a medium-sized evergreen tree, reaching 15-20 m tall, with alternate pinnate leaves, each leaf 15-25 cm long, with 2-8 lateral leaflets 5-10 cm long; the terminal leaflet is absent. The newly emerging young leaves are a bright coppery red at first, before turning green as they expand to full size. The flowers are small, greenish-white or yellowish-white, produced in panicles up to 30 cm long.

The fruit is a drupe, 3-4 cm long and 3 cm in diameter. The outside is covered by a red, roughly-textured rind that is inedible but easily removed. The inside consists of a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh, rich in vitamin C, with a texture somewhat similar to that of a grape. The centre contains a single glossy brown nut-like seed, 2 cm long and 1-1.5 cm in diameter. The seed, similar to a buckeye seed, is slightly poisonous and should not be eaten. The fruit matures from July to October, about 100 days after flowering.

There are two subspecies:

Litchi chinensis subsp. chinensis. China, Indochina. Leaves with 4-8 (rarely 2) leaflets.
Litchi chinensis subsp. philippinensis (Radlk.) Leenh. Philippines, Indonesia. Leaves with 2-4 (rarely 6) leaflets.

Cultivation and uses

A plate of lychee showing a peeled fruit

Lychees are extensively grown in their native southern China, and also elsewhere in southeast Asia, India, southern Japan, and more recently in Florida and Hawaii in the United States, and the wetter areas of eastern Australia. They require a warm subtropical to tropical climate that is frost-free or with only very slight winter frosts not below -4°C, and with high summer heat, rainfall, and humidity. Growth is best on well-drained, slightly acidic soils rich in organic matter. A wide range of cultivars is available, with early and late maturing forms suited to warmer and cooler climates respectively. They are also grown as an ornamental tree as well as for their fruit.

Germinating Lychee seed with its main root (about 3 months old)

Lychees are commonly sold fresh in Chinese markets (and in recent years, also widely in western supermarkets). The red rind turns dark brown when the fruit is refrigerated, but the taste is not affected. It is also sold canned year-round.

A major early Chinese historical reference to lychees was made in the Tang Dynasty, when it was the favourite fruit of Emperor Li Longji (Xuanzong)‘s favoured concubine Yang Yuhuan (Yang Guifei).

There is a Cantonese saying: “one lychee = three torches of fire” ( ). It refers to the extreme Yang property of the fruit. Over-consumption of lychees is reported to lead to dried lips and nosebleeds in some people, and may trigger the formation of pimples and mouth ulcers. By contrast, the related longan fruit is purported to have a nourishing property.

See also


List of fruits
Chinese food therapy

External links

Fruits of Warm Climates: Lychee

California Rare Fruit Growers: Lychee Fruit Facts
Know and Enjoy Tropical Fruit: Lychee, Rambutan & Longan
Litchi chinensis (Sapindaceae)
Litchi chinensis

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