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Origin of Lychees

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.

The second place wild lychee trees began to emerge was in the southern sub tropical low elevations of Southern China in the provinces of Guangdong/Kwangtung and Fujian/Fukien primarily along rivers and near the seacoast. These lowland lychees are most likely a result of fruit/seeds that were washed down rivers from the mountains or were transported by birds and then were deposited naturally in great conditions for lychee growth.

There are still villages in Southern China today with lychee trees that are over 1000 years old! There is some evidence to suggest that wild lychees may have also originated in northern mountain regions of Vietnam.

Commercial planting and growing of lychees in China is primarily in the provinces of Guangdong, Gangxi, Hainan, Fujian, Yunnan, Taiwan and a small, special area of Sichuan/Szechuan with a unique micro-climate. Guangdong is called 'the Kingdom of Lychee' because the province has the highest and best lychee production in China and lychees are grown almost everywhere in the province. In Guangdong there is a grove that has a lychee production record of over 2000 years!

With the developments in lychee production techniques and technology in China since the early 1990's lychee production in China has doubled. More than 1/2 of the acreage of lychees in China have been planted out since 1994 and 1/3 since 1999.

Lychee production in China is in primarily the northern tropical and southern sub tropical climate zones between 19 degrees and 24 degrees north latitude. The northern tropical climate includes southwestern Guangdong, Hainan, southern Taiwan and Leizhou Peninsula. The southern sub tropical climate zone includes central and southern Guangdong and Guangxi, southeastern coastal Fujian and central, southern and western coastal Taiwan.

Lychee farming spread from it's native China to neighboring areas of southeastern Asia and offshore islands, India, the West Indies, South Africa, Madagascar, then to France and England. The Lychee spread to Hawaii in 1873 and from there to Florida in 1883, and then from Florida to California in 1897. However, successful fruiting of the Lychee tree in the U.S. did not occur until the early 1900's in southern California. There are currently about 33 varieties growing in the US, and Lychee trees have now spread to most subtropical and many tropical areas of the world.

In recent years, Australia has become a major producer of lychees in Queensland and New South Wales. Lychee trees were brought to Australia in the 1850's by Chinese gold miner workers.

Between 1903 and 1906 Reverend W.M. Brewster imported Chen Tze or Royal Chen Purple lychee trees to South and Central Florida from the northernmost growing region of Fukien. This lychee variety/cultivar was renamed Brewster. There is even part of an original 'Brewster' grove in Davie, Florida.

The most popular varieties grown in South Florida are the Brewster, the Hakip, and the Mauritius.

The first commercial nursery in South Florida to sell lychee trees was Reasoner's Royal Palm Nurseries

An image of the original page from the Reasoner's Nursery circa 1924 catalog in shown below. You will note the product item for lychee on the upper left:

Courtesy Royal Palm Nurseries Archives

This article was last updated on: May 14, 2004
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