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Lee County lychee nut alert

June 22, 2018
BY JOYCE COMINGORE - Garden Club of Cape Coral (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has put an immediate quarantine in place for all of Lee County, prohibiting the movement of lychee fruit or plant materials (trees, leaves or stems) out of the county, due to the presence of Aceria litchi, the lychee or hibiscus erinnose mite. This pest has been found in several Lee County locations, particularly in lychee groves on Pine Island and other residential properties and nurseries in other areas of the county. The notice asks us to help stop the spread of this major pest by purchasing lychee fruit without leaves or stems attached, and not to move lychee fruit or plant parts out of Lee County.

This mite causes galls (abnormal growths covered in fine hairs) to form on the upper leaves, which later become reddish-brown with a velvety appearance underneath. It eventually disrupts the ability to utilize photosynthesis. This damage initially appears to be superficial, but as the number of mites grow, they damage the fruits and flowers. Once the flowers are damaged, fruiting can't happen. Adult mites migrate from older infested leaves, migrating to the young, new, fresh leaves forming, laying eggs that hatch in 3-4 days. Their life cycle is 13 days in favorable conditions, living in the velvety erinose produced. The mite is invisible to the naked eye.

Years ago, my favorite place to eat out was a Chinese caf. They served lychees. It wasn't until I moved to Florida, joined the Caloosa RareFruit Exchange, that I tasted lychees. They are delicious.

L. chinensis or Litchi chinensis are in the Sapindoideae family. It is an evergreen tropical tree, or as I consider it, a tall, evergreen multi-stemmed bush, native to the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, where it has been documented from 1059 AD. It is less than 49 feet tall. China is the main producer of lychees, then India and other tropical areas. They bear clusters of red roughly textured, soft-shelled fruits. This covers a fragrant, sweet, white flesh, much like a large grape. It is best eaten fresh where you can enjoy the fragrance exuded. This mass contains a large, shiny, black, single, elongated like an olive, seed that if eaten, causes hypoglycemia or encephalopathy.

There are three subspecies, determined by flower arrangement, twig thickness, fruit and number of stamens. L. chinensis, subspecies chinensis is the only commercial lychee, with thin twigs, a normally 6 stamen flower; the L. chinensis, subspecies philippinensis, grows in the wild of the Philippines and is rarely cultivated; L. chinensis, subspecies javensis, is only known in cultivation in Malaysia and Indonesia.

There are many cultivars, and the same cultivar grown in different climates can produce very different fruits - the same cultivar names may be named differently in different climates. Most cultivars grown in the U.S. were imported from China, except for the "Groff," which was developed in Hawaii.

The bark is grey-black on brownish-red trunks; leaves are 4-9 inches long, shaped like the Lauraceae family, and they repel water. Flowers grow in drooping clusters (10 or more) on current year's growth, holding hundreds of small white, yellow or green, distinctly fragrant flowers. Fruits mature 80 to 112 days depending on the climate, location and cultivar, and varieties vary in shape from heart shaped to oval or round. The bumpy rind is inedible but easily removed to reveal the white, fragrant flesh. The rind turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting. Some cultivars provide shriveled seeds known as "chicken tongues." They command a higher price because there is more edible flesh.

Unofficial records in China refer to lychees as far back as 2000 BC. It was first introduced to the West in 1656 by Michal Boym, a Polish Jesuit missionary. Once the fruit is picked, it deteriorates rapidly. In the 1st century, fresh lychees were in such demand at the Imperial Court that a special courier on a swift steed would bring the fresh fruit to the court. Europe's attention started when Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza wrote about it in 1585, and on praise reports of Spanish friars who visited in the 1570s. They called them plums.

They require a tropical frost-free climate above 25-degree Fahrenheit, with high summer heat, rainfall and humidity. Growth is best with well-drained, slightly acidic soils rich in organic matter and mulch.

They are also grown for ornamental purposes as well as for their fruit. Folklore has it, a tree not producing much fruit can be girdled, leading to more fruit production.

Lychees are sold fresh in markets. The red rinds turn brown when refrigerated, but the taste isn'taffected. They can be bought canned or dried with rind intact, where it shrinks and darkens. Dried lychees are often called lychee nuts. So, lychee nuts I have not tried.

I had always believed that lychee season for Florida was May and June, but researching it I found that to be wrong. In Lycheesonline.com, it says the real season is mid-June to mid-July. Hey - we are in the peak season for lychees, this is the time to buy. They claim growers are selling partially ripe lychees because if they wait until lychees are ripe, birds and insects will devastate them; birds and insects like ripe fruit, too. The supply gets limited.

The top lychee varieties are Brewster and Mauritius. The Brewster has a large seed and Mauritius has more "chicken tongue" seeds but are smaller. Break even. Wildlife is a problem around fruit groves, the Mauritius has weaker branches that break under the weight of racoons, as well as high winds (like hurricanes).

Neem oils, or sulphur, or soapy sprays easily eliminate them. At least 3 sprays 7 days apart, soaking them good, until the brown casings flake off or turn black.

Help save lychees in Florida. You can plant a lychee tree to thank for it's environmental help as well as its delicious fruit. Be sure to keep all parts in county for now, though.

Joyce Comingore is a Master Gardener, hibiscus enthusiast and member of the Garden Club of Cape Coral.



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