The lychee, litchi, liechee, liche, lizhi or li zhi, or lichee (Litchi chinensis; Chinese: 荔枝) is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae.
It is a tropical fruit tree native to the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, where cultivation is documented 1059 AD. China is the main producer of lychees, followed by India, other countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian Subcontinent and South Africa.
A tall evergreen tree, the lychee bears small fleshy fruits. The outside of the fruit is pink-red, roughly textured and inedible, covering sweet flesh eaten in many different dessert dishes. Since the perfume-like flavor is lost in the process of canning, the fruit is usually eaten fresh.
Litchi contains many phytochemicals; the seeds were found to contain methylenecyclopropylglycine which can cause hypoglycemia, and outbreaks of encephalopathy in Indian and Vietnamese children have been linked to its consumption
Litchi chinensis is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae. It was described and named by French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat in his account “Voyage aux Indes orientales et à la Chine, fait depuis 1774 jusqu’à 1781” (translation: “Voyage to the East Indies and China, made from 1774 to 1781”), which was published in 1782. There are three subspecies, determined by flower arrangement, twig thickness, fruit, and number of stamens.
- Litchi chinensischinensis is the only commercialized lychee. It grows wild in southern China, northern Vietnam, and Cambodia. It has thin twigs, flowers typically have six stamens, fruit are smooth or with protuberances up to 2 mm (0.079 in).
- Litchi chinensisphilippinensis (Radlk.) Leenh. It is common in the wild in the Philippines and rarely cultivated. It has thin twigs, six to seven stamens, long oval fruit with spiky protuberances up to 3 mm (0.12 in).
- Litchi chinensisjavensis. It is only known in cultivation, in Malaysia and Indonesia. It has thick twigs, flowers with seven to eleven stamens in sessile clusters, smooth fruit with protuberances up to 1 mm (0.039 in).
- Litchi chinensisis an evergreen tree that is frequently less than 15 m (49 ft) tall, sometimes reaching 28 m (92 ft).
- The bark is grey-black, the branches a brownish-red. Leaves are 10 to 25 cm (3.9 to 9.8 in) or longer, with leaflets in 2-4 pairs. Litchee have a similar foliage to the Lauraceaefamily likely due to convergent evolution. They are adapted by developing leaves that repel water, and are called laurophyll or lauroid Flowers grow on a terminal inflorescence with many panicles on the current season’s growth. The panicles grow in clusters of ten or more, reaching 10 to 40 cm (3.9 to 15.7 in) or longer, holding hundreds of small white, yellow, or green flowers that are distinctively fragrant.
- The lychee bears fleshy fruitsthat mature in 80–112 days, depending on climate, location, and cultivar. Fruits vary in shape from round to ovoid to heart-shaped, up to 5 cm long and 4 cm wide (2.0 in × 1.6 in), weighing approximately 20g. The thin, tough skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red, and is smooth or covered with small sharp protuberances roughly textured. The rind is inedible but easily removed to expose a layer of translucent white flesh with a floral smell and a fragrant, sweet flavor. The skin turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting. The fleshy, edible portion of the fruit is an aril, surrounding one dark brown inedible seed that is 1 to 3.3 cm long and 0.6 to 1.2 cm wide (0.39–1.30 by 0.24–0.47 in). Some cultivars produce a high percentage of fruits with shriveled aborted seeds known as ‘chicken tongues’. These fruit typically have a higher price, due to having more edible flesh. Since the perfume-like flavor is lost in the process of canning, the fruit is usually eaten fresh.