Lychee, its Origin, Distribution and Production Around the World
lychee or litchi which belongs to the Sapindaceae or soapberry family
originated in southern China and possibly in northern Vietnam and the
Malay Peninsula. Lychee trees grow wild in abundance on Hainan Island
near northern Vietnam mainly at an elevation of 600 to 800 m, and below
500 m in hilly areas in Leizhou Peninsula, in the west of Guangdong and
the east of Guangxi. The natural distribution of wild lychee is from
south of Shiwan Mountains, Liu Wan Mountains, Yunkai Mountains to
Hainan Island. Wild lychees are a major species in several lowland
rainforest areas of Hainan Island and may account for 50% of the virgin
The first official recording of lychee in
China appeared in the 2nd century BC, while unofficial records date
back to 1766BC. A "Lychee Register" indicated that there were 16
cultivars in Guangdong by 1034 and 30 in Fujian by 1059. These figures
had climbed to 100 by 1076 in Guangdong and a similar number, somewhat
later in Fujian. There is mention of cultivars in scientific literature
before this time (3rd, 4th and 9th century), but morphological
descriptions were not provided until the 11th century and the first
detailed description did not appear until 1612. The Chinese lychee
growers could distinguish the best types for cultivation on the plains,
hills or levee banks by the 2nd century BC, but there is no indication
of how, when or why they selected certain selections. Certainly, better
cultivars could not be disseminated before clonal propagation became
available (air layering in the 4th century and grafting in the 14th
century). Propagation by seed, however, continued for sometime, but was
eventually eliminated by the 16th century.
Some cultivars in
China have a very long history of cultivation, while others are
relatively new. It is reported that cultivars such as Sum Yee Hong,
Haak Yip, Kwai May, No Mai Chee, Wai Chee and Seong Sue Wai have a
history of 500 to 600 years or more, while others such as Bah Lup,
Heong Lai and Tim Naan date back 200 to 300 years ago. Souey Tung is a
relatively young cultivar (about 100 years old).
The lychee was
introduced to the tropical and subtropical world from the end of the
17th century and now is found situated within 15-35° latitude in
most countries. Large commercial industries have developed in Taiwan,
Thailand, India, Vietnam, Madagascar and South Africa. There is
substantial interest in the crop in Australia, Mauritius, Reunion,
Spain, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico and the United States. Total world
production is about 0.5 million metric tons (mMT), similar to that of
the related longan (Dimocarpus longan) and rambutan and pulasan
(Nephelium lappaceum and N. mutabile), but well below other tropical
tree fruit such as citrus (73 mMT), banana (71 mMT), mango (15.7 mMT),
papaya (4.4 mMT) and avocado 1.5 mMT). There are collections of lychee
cultivars in several of the lychee-growing areas of the world. The
major collections are in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Australia and U.S.A.
(Florida and Hawaii).
Table 1. Major Lychee Cultivars around the World
|Main growing areas||Major cultivars|
|Fujian||Souey Tung, Haak Yip, Tai So and Brewster|
|Taiwan||131000||Taii Chung||Haak Yip and Sah Keng|
|Thailand||10000||Chiang Mai, Lamphun and Fang||Tai So, Wai Chee and Baidum|
|India||90000||Bihar State||Shahi, Rose Scented and China|
|Madagascar||50000||Eastern coastal belt||Tai So|
|South Africa||8000||Transvaal-Lowveld Region||Tai So, Bengal (Madras)|
|Region||5000||Wet coastal/subcoastal areas||Tai So|
|Australia ||2000||Eastern coastal strip||Fay Zee Siu, Tai So, Bengal, Wai Chee,|
Kwai May Pink and Salathiel
|U.S.A.||500||Hawaii||Tai So and Kaimana|
trees are distributed in seven provinces in southern China of which
Guangdong and Fujian are the main producing areas followed by Guangxi,
Sichuan and Yunnan. Guangdong produces about 65% of the crop. There are
over 80 countries growing lychees in Guangdong, but lychee production
is centred, in and around Guangzhou. The lychee ranks second after
citrus as the most important fruit crop in Guangdong. In Fujian, citrus
and longan are more important. The area under lychee is about 300000
ha, which is more than the total area under horticulture in Australia.
Yields of 10 t/ha are possible in well-managed orchards in Guangdong.
Average yields are about 2 t/ha. Yields are lower in Fujian, where
lychee is considered a poorer proposition.
There are more than
100 lychee cultivars in China, probably because of the long history of
cultivation and propagation of the crop by seed. The most important
cultivars in Guangdong and Fujian are Sum Yee Hong, Tai So, Chen Zi
(Brewster), Souey Tung, Haak Yip, Fay Zee Siu, Kwai May, Wai Chee and
No Mai Chee. Wai Chee accounts for over 50% of plantings in Guangdong
and bears consistentlY,because it flowers late and avoids the low
temperatures of early spring. In Fujian, Haak Yip and Souey Tung
dominate plantings. Other cultivars grown commercially include: Bah Lup
(Pinyin: Bai La), Jin Feng, Chong Yun Hong (Lhuang Yuan Hong), Heong
Lai (Xin Xing Xiang Li), Tim Naan (Tian Yan), Kwa Lok (theng Cheng Gua
Lu), Seong Sue Wai (Shang Shu Huai), and Soot Wai Zee (Xue Huai li).
general, No Mai Chee and Kwai May are very highly regarded for
excellent eating quality and a high proportion of chicken tongue (or
aborted seed) fruit. Fay Zee Siu is also popular because of its
excellent eating and its large size (24-32g) fruit. Some cultivars are
best eaten fresh, others are more suitable for canning or drying.
Cultivars for export include Sum Yee Hong, Fay Zee Siu, Haak Yip, Kwai
May, Wai Chee and No Mai Chee.
air-layers, mainly Haak Yip and Chong Yun Hong (Pinyin:Zhuang Yuan
Hong), were introduced into the northern part of Taiwan from mainland
China in 1760 and again in 1860. However, commercial production did not
begin until the late 1920s when further introductions of the main
Chinese cultivars were grown in southern areas away from strong winds
of the Pacific Ocean.
Since the 1920s, lychee plants have been
distributed to every district in Taiwan except the north where the
weather during winter and spring is cold and wet. The major area of
cultivation is the central and southern districts of the island, where
there are large areas of alluvial sandy loam. Yields are higher on
these soils compared to those on the mountain slopes. Temperature and
moisture conditions are ideal for satisfactory flowering during winter,
and mature trees may carry 500 kg of fruit in a season. Haak Yip is the
most popular cultivar and accounts for over 80% of plantings. Other
important cultivars are Sum Yee Hong, Chong Yun Hong, No Mai Chee and
more recently Sah Keng.
ranks eleven in the list of economic fruit crops in Thailand. The main
production centre is in the north at elevations of 300 to 600 m between
Chiang Mai, Lamphum and Fang in a monsoonal climate with a distinct dry
season. Plantings have also been established in the more tropical humid
high rainfall areas north of Bangkok, but flowering is more consistent
and yields higher in the cooler elevated areas.
lychee has a long history in Thailand, better cultivars from China were
only introduced in the early 1950s. The main cultivars in the Chiang
Mai Area are Tai So and to a lesser degree Wai Chee, Baidum and
Chacapat. A different set of cultivars has been developed for
production in the tropical areas, including Luk Lai, Sampao Kaow,
Kaloke Bai Yaow, Kom and Red China. Quality of these seedling
selections does not compare favourably to the cultivars grown in
Vietnam is part of the original area of distribution of lychee. Current
production is about 6000 t from 1500 ha, and is expected to rise to
about 40000 t by the year 2000. Production is mainly in the area
radiating from Hanoi in lowland and upland areas up to an elevation of
150 m (Lat. 21°N) where the winters are cool and dry enough to
provide reliable flowering. Lychee has a high priority in new tree
fruit plantings along with citrus. Increased production will not only
increase local consumption, but will also earn much needed foreign
exchange. The industry is mainly dependent on one cultivar, Thieu (Vai
Thieu) which was introduced from China about 100 to 300 years ago.
Several cultivars from Australia have been recently imported, but have
not been planted out in commercial orchards as yet.
reached India through Burma about the end of the 17th century, and
India now produces nearly as many lychees as China. During the last 200
years, it has spread to several areas. More than 70% of the crop is
produced in northern Bihar. Other lychee growing states include West
Bengal (15%) and Uttar Pradesh (6%).
Most of the lychee
cultivars in India have been developed locally from seedlings from
Chinese selections. Although a large number of lychee cultivars are
grown most of them are not widely planted. The same cultivar may be
known under several different names in different places. However, few
of the Indian cultivars appear to be renamed Chinese cultivars as has
happened in Thailand, Hawaii and Australia. Hot and desiccating winds
is the main factor limiting lychee cultivation in several districts and
cultivars have been selected which can reputedly set and carry fruit
under these adverse conditions.
Of the 10 commercial cultivars
growing in Bihar, Shahi (Muzaffarpur), Rose-Scented and China are the
most popular, due to their large fruit size and excellent quality.
Other important cultivars are Deshi, Kasba, Purbi, and Early and Late
Bendana. The most popular cultivars in the Punjab are: Saharanpur
(Early Large Red), Dehradun, Calcutta (Calcutta, Kalcuttia or Calcutta
Late), Shahi, Seedless Late (Late Seedless or Late Bedana) and
is evidence that lychee trees were imported into South Africa from
Mauritius in the early 1870s. From 1886 onwards, the Durban Botanical
gardens distributed air-layers of those introductions within the
country, mainly for planting in Natal. Commercial orchards are
currently spread on the western boundary of South Africa from Levubu
and Tzaneen in the northern Transvaal, the central and southern Lowveld
near Hazyview, Nelspruit, Malelane and Barberton down to the North and
South Coast of Natal near Durban and Port Shepstone. About half the
crop is exported to Europe, and the export market is in direct
competition with fruit from Madagascar.
The commercial lychee
industry in South Africa is mainly dependent on a single cultivar,
H.L.H. Mauritius (80% of plantings), so named because practically all
the trees throughout the country are clonal propagules from an original
tree imported from Mauritius by H.L. Hood. This cultivar resembles the
Chinese cultivar Tai So, and any differences in tree or fruit
characteristics are very minor and not agronomically significant; it
may be a seedling or sport of Tai So. The main disadvantage with Tai So
is its large seed. Because the industry is dependent on a single
cultivar, the production season is unduly short at any location.
However, fruit are normally available from the end of November to
mid-February due to differences in environmental conditions in the
different lychee growing areas. The only other cultivar grown (20% of
plantings) to any extent is Bengal (Madras). Chinese, Indian and
Australian cultivars have also been imported into South Africa but
their performance and yield have yet to be fully evaluated and none
have been released for commercial cultivation.
was introduced by Professor C. Oppenheimer to Israel in 1934, although
commercial production did not start for another 40 to 50 years.
Production is about 500 t from about 200 ha, and is nearly all exported
Lychee orchards are now being established in most
areas of Israel, except in the Negev and Arava regions. The main
cultivars are Mauritius (early maturity) and Floridian (late), but
plantings also include Kaimana, Late Seedless, Garnet, Early Large Red
and No Mai Chee. After harvest, the lychees are treated with sulphur
dioxide for 20 minutes and after a few hours with hydrochloric acid to
maintain the red skin colour, although sometimes the treatments taints
lychee arrived in Madagascar from Mauritius in 1770. Production is
estimated to be about 50000 t and is mainly confined to the moist
eastern seaboard. About 5000 to 10000 t are exported to Europe, mostly
by ship. Trees grow in a haphazard fashion, with most plantings less
than 1 ha. Many of the commercial orchards are 20 to 30 years old.
(or Tai So) is the most important cultivar. Fruit are usually sulphured
by burning sulphur in old shipping containers, although sulphur dioxide
fumigation is also being trialled. Fruit generally have a better
appearance than those sent from South Africa.
planting material was first introduced from the Orient in 1764 and
production in 1985 was about 1000 t. The Mauritius lychee was selected
from a seedling on the island in the 1870s. Practically all the trees
in Mauritius, Malagasy Republic and South Africa are clonal propagules
from this tree.
lychee arrived in Reunion over 200 years ago from Mauritius. Annual
production is about 5000 t, of which about 10% is exported to France.
The main cultivar is Tai So (Mauritius).
lychee was introduced into Australia by Chinese migrants over 100 years
ago. They originally came to work the goldfields in northern Queensland
and ate fruit and threw the seeds away. They did not go directly into
agriculture or plant crops. Isolated trees of 80 to 100 years are found
in these areas. Lychee plants (seedlings?) were growing in the Sydney
Botanic Gardens in 1854 and in Brisbane by the late 1850s. Air-layers
(Wai Chee) were not introduced until the 1930s. Plant material was
subsequently distributed further along the coast and production extends
from Cairns and the Atherton Tableland in northern Queensland to Coffs
Harbour in northern New South Wales. Tai So and Bengal are the main
cultivars. This is because they were the only planting material readily
available during the expansion of the industry in the early to mid
197os. These cultivars have now lost favour and current expansion is
mainly based on cultivars such as Kwai May Pink, Salathiel and Wai Chee
in cooler areas and Fay Zee Siu in warmer locations.
first lychee (cv. Tai So) was brought to Hawaii in 1873 and was still
growing in 1972. Other introductions were made by the Department of
Agriculture and private individuals during the first half of the 20th
century. Lychees are grown up to an elevation of about 500 m and
occasionally up to 1000 m on the five major islands of Hawaii.
Commercial plantings peaked during the late 1960s with about 25,000
trees and production of about 250 t (average yield of 10 kg per tree).
About 20% of the crop was exported to the mainland. Production declined
during the next decade because of low yields and quarantine
restrictions with exported fruit. Since 1980, there has been renewed
interest in the crop, mainly due to the availability of better
cultivars and improvements in post-harvest technology.
Tai So is
the only cultivar grown on a wide scale. Fruit ripen from May to June.
Because of the irregular bearing habit and short cropping season of Tai
So, other cultivars have been tried, including Brewster, Haak Yip and
Sweetcliff (similar to Wai Chee but different to Tim Nann or Sweetcliff
from China) which were imported earlier in this century, and Kaimana
which is a seedling selection of Haak Yip developed in the 1970s.
Florida is well known as the centre of tropical fruit production in the
U.S.A. This is the result of an active plant introduction and research
program. Florida's commercial lychee plantings reached a peak of about
130 ha in 1957 but declined to less than half these figures in 1966
because of cold damage and urban expansion. Lychee production has been
on a steady increase since 1975 when plantings shifted towards the less
frost-prone southern areas, but suffered a setback in 1992 with
Hurricane Andrew when about a third of the trees were lost. Many
factors have contributed to the interests in lychee production
including the search for alternative crops to avocado and limes,
greater demand for exotics and the opportunity for higher returns.
has been the main lychee cultivar in Florida since the Reverend W. M.
Brewster obtained air-layers of Brewster (or Chen Zi), from Fujian
Province in 1903. There are many orchards with mature trees 12 m
across. Brewster matures from mid-June to mid-July and has good colour
Tai So (Mauritius) has become very popular in
recent years and is more consistent in bearing compared to Brewster.
However, it suffers from wind-damage. There is also the problem of limb
breakage after ice-loading. Tai So matures about two weeks before
Brewster. Other cultivars under evaluation include Sweetcliff (small
fruit and susceptible to micronutrient deficiencies, especially Fe),
Bengal (irregular yielding) and Haak Yip. New plantings include Kwai
May Pink from Australia.
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Map of Lychee History