A relative of pear, apple, and peach, the loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) tree is a lesser-known fruit. The loquat originated in southeast China where it has been cultivated for over 2000 years. The tree is now distributed far and wide. It is cultivated in India, Southeast Asia, the medium altitudes of the East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South and Central America, and Mexico. It can grow in very tropical regions such as the Congo, as observed by ECHO’s farm manager Danny Blank during a past visit. In the U.S. it is grown in California, Hawaii, and even in areas as temperate as the Carolinas. However, in the Carolinas, loquats don’t produce fruit and are grown purely as an ornamental. The loquat tree is the only evergreen among its relatives; its evergreen leaves, moderate size (20 to 30 feet or 7 to 10 meters) and attractive canopy make it an ideal plant for landscaping.
If one word were used to describe loquat, it would have to be ‘adaptable.’ Loquat can tolerate cooler weather like its relatives, but also thrives in tropical conditions. According to several sources, it can survive temperatures as cold as 12°F (-11° C) for a brief period of time. There is a lack of information on maximum temperatures tolerated by loquat; however, loquat fruits poorly (if at all) in a climate that is “too” tropical. As far as elevation, it grows naturally at an altitude of 3,000 to 7,000 feet (914 to 2,100 meters) in China. Loquat fruit production at any given elevation depends on the latitude. A loquat growing at an altitude of 3,000-7,000 feet near the equator may not produce fruit, while the same tree at the same elevation in China will. Of course there are exceptions to all of these climactic ranges depending on the microclimate. For example, Bob Hargrave at ECHO says that loquat trees produced well at 5,000 to 7,000 feet in Kenya, very close to the equator.
Many varieties of loquats have been selected. There are over 800 varieties according to one report from the Orient. Here at ECHO we have ‘Oliver’, ‘Wolfe’, ‘Christmas’, and ‘Bradenton’ planted on the farm. These varieties are well adapted to southern Florida’s subtropical climate. Wherever loquats can be found, a selection of improved seedling varieties is usually present, perfectly fit for that location and climate.
Trees grown from seeds are not identical to the parent, so desirable varieties are maintained through grafting. However, unlike many fruit species, fruit from loquat grown from seed is usually very acceptable. For most species of fruit, grafting is done to maintain a desirable varietal characteristic (e.g. short and compact tree canopy) or to promote early fruit production. It should be noted, though, that grafted loquat trees do not necessarily produce fruit any earlier than non-grafted loquat seedlings. The time to fruiting is 4 to 6 years with a non-grafted seedling, compared to 3 to 5 years with a grafted plant. Of course, these times are dependent on the care and climate under which the tree is grown.
Loquat trees are pollinated by bees and are usually self-fertile. In some cultivars they are self-incompatible and need cross pollination to set fruit. It is recommended to have several different varieties or seedlings for optimal fruit set. The season of fruit production varies from country to country. Loquat trees at ECHO fruit from February to March, the cool time of year here. Interestingly, the tree blooms most of the year at ECHO. This is a reminder that where the year-round climate is hot and humid, people planting loquats will probably only see leaves and blossoms but never fruit.
The fruit is borne on the terminal ends in clusters of 3 to 5. The time from flower to fruit is 90 days. Many people I know have tasted loquat and found they liked it right away. The fruit is sub acid and juicy with a texture similar to peach or apricot. Fruits are ready when they are totally orange or yellow.
Loquat trees are subject to few diseases and pests, though fruit fly damage to the fruits is severe at ECHO. The female Caribbean fruit fly (Anastrepha suspense) lays her eggs in the fruit. Larvae that emerge from the egg then eat their way out of the fruit. Caribbean fruit fly quickly ruins the quality of fruit. The best control is to either bag the immature fruit on the tree or pick the fruit before the flies damage it. Avoid planting loquats in an area where there is a serious infestation of fruit flies.
The drought tolerance of the loquat is impressive. Many of the loquat trees planted here at ECHO are not irrigated. However, during the peak of the dry season in May, the trees do show signs of water stress. Irrigation is recommended during fruiting to increase the quality of fruit.
Despite all of the loquat’s great characteristics, there are a few drawbacks. This tree has little tolerance to flooding. The best location to plant a loquat is on higher ground where there will be no standing water. The loquat is also intolerant of saline soil, although it tolerates a wide range of soil types.
All in all, the loquat is a fruit tree that is easy to grow in many locations and is a beautiful ornamental even when grown where the tree may not bear fruit. The ECHO seed bank can provide loquat seeds to our network. However, because the seeds do not keep well in storage, they are only available seasonally from February through June. Even though the seedlings may vary from the parent plant, they will produce tasty fruit. You may even enjoy selecting for yourself a superior seedling that is best suited to your taste and location.
If you are a member of our network, you may request a free sample seed packet.
Langley, C. 2005. Loquat: A Fruit Tree Adaptable to Many Locations. ECHO Development Notes no. 86