Medium-sized evergreen tree, native to China, now widespread in cultivation in much of Asia, in Central and Northern America, in Africa and Australia. These are long-lived trees, which in nature easily reach 15-20 meters in height, with short erect stem, and dense and rounded crown. The Lici have large pinnate leaves, consisting of leaflets reminiscent of those of the ficus, lanceolate, shiny, dark green in color; in spring it produces numerous small white-green flowers, gathered in apical clusters. The flowers are followed by the fruits, roundish, green, in pendulous clusters; they ripen towards the end of autumn, taking on a pinkish or reddish color. The fruits of lychees they have a particular thin, rigid peel that detaches easily, showing a whitish, sugary and juicy pulp. Inside the fertile fruits there is a large oval core, in the non-fertile fruits the core is smaller and flattened. The lychee fruits are grown fresh or dried, they are also used to prepare jams or liqueurs. This plant is also known as Chinese date.
For some years a very exotic fruit called lychee, also called China cherry, has spread in Italy. It should be known that it is produced from 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 leaflets. 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 ripen: they have an oval shape and initially green skin that then turns red. It is soft and with small tubercles. After the harvest it quickly turns brown and dry. Inside there is the light yellow pulp, very fragrant that wraps a large brown seed, not edible, on average 2 cm long.
These trees are native to southern China, Malaysia and northern Vietnam and have been known since 2000 BC.
The first Westerner to make a scientific description of it was Pierre Sonnerat on his return from a trip to Southeast Asia.
There are three main subspecies
- Litchi chinensis subspecies chinensis, the most known and widespread.
- Litchi chinensis subspecies philippinensis
- Litchi chinensis subspecies 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, also in other continents. Commercial cultivation is currently developing in India, Japan, South Africa, Mexico, Australia and also in some areas of California and Hawaii.