The lychee tree (Litchi chinensis) is popular for the sweet fruit it produces. Although the lychee tree is not easy to grow in Singapore, this evergreen tree can still be found in different parts of Singapore including the Singapore Botanic Gardens. A particular lychee tree has also been chosen by the National Parks Board for preservation under the Heritage Trees Scheme.
Origins and cultivation
The lychee tree is native to Guangdong in southern China. Its cultivation predates the Qin dynasty (221–207 BC) and was known to be the queen of all fruit.1 It was also believed to be native to Northern Vietnam due to suitable climate conditions.2 Over the years, lychee cultivation spread to neighbouring countries such as Myanmar and India. It requires a cool dry period to encourage vegetative dormancy prior to flowering but requires warm and humid summers with plenty of rain for successful fruiting. Economic prospects of expanding this crop are therefore limited due to its demanding ecological requirements.3 Lychee trees are thus found in certain parts of China; India; northern Vietnam; the cool highlands of Thailand; Bali, Indonesia among other countries.4
The lychee tree is of medium height with a short stocky trunk and branches that are often crooked and twisted. It is a slow growing tree with a dense round top and can reach 30 meters in height.5
An evergreen tree, its dark green, glossy and leathery leaves are divided into four to eight leaflets and each is about 4 to 8 centimeters long.6 Its young leaves are reddish in colour.7
Lychee flowers are small, white or yellowish in colour and bunched at the tip of branches. The flowers normally appear in spring. Flowering precedes fruit maturity by about 140 days.8
Lychee fruits grow in loose, pendent clusters of between two to 30 fruits and are usually strawberry-red or sometimes pinkish in colour. They are round, measuring about 3 to 3.5 centimeters in diameter, and covered with thin leathery skin. The fruit’s glossy, succulent, translucent-white to pinkish fleshy aril is juicy and sweet. Inside the aril is a seed, which varies in size and form. The seed is hard and oblong, with a shiny dark-brown coat and white inside.9 The lychee tree is known to reach its prime production in its 20th to 40th year and can stay productive for another 100 years.10
Lychees are usually peeled and eaten fresh. When pitted, they are commonly added to fruit cups and fruit salad, or canned in sugar syrup. In their dried form, peeled lychees are eaten like snacks. They can be added to Chinese tea as a sweetener in place of sugar.
The Chinese use lychee flesh as a cough remedy and it is believed to have a beneficial effect on gastralgia, tumours and enlargements of the glands. The ground seed is used as an analgesic. In China and India, the seeds are powdered and is said to relieve neuralgic pain.11
Lychees in Singapore
Being a sub-tropical fruit, lychee trees fruit erratically in tropical Singapore.12 The lychee fruit is imported to Singapore during the June/July season.13 Often eaten fresh, the fruit has also been used as a salad, side dish and dessert.14
A particular lychee tree chosen by the National Parks Board for preservation under the Heritage Trees Scheme is located along Mt. Rosie Road (opposite house 11J, beside the Lamp Post LP12). It is a large roadside tree at roughly 18 meters high. The National Parks Board lists this lychee tree in their website with a unique ID of HT 2001-02.15 The lychee tree can also be found at the Wild Fruit Trees Arboretum, Learning Forest at the Singapore Botanic Gardens.16
Common name: Lychee
Scientific name: Litchi chinensis, nephelium litchi
Botanical Family: Sapindaceae (soapberry family)
Malay: Laici, kelengkang
Tan Hooi Geng
1. “Lychees: A Royal Treat for the Palate,” Straits Times, 24 October 1988, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Othman Yaacob and Suranant Subhadrabandhu, The Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 248 (Call no. RSING 634.0959 OTH); Vuu Coong Hau, Fruit-Trees in Vietnam (Vietnam: The Gioi Publishers, 1997), 102–06. (Call no. RSING 634.0409597 VU)
3. Eric Dannell, Anna Kiss and Martina Stoohrova, Dokmai Garden’s Guide to Fruits and Vegetables in Southeast Asian Market (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2011), 72 (Call no. RSING 581.6320959 DAN); Julia F. Morton, “Lychee,” in Fruits of Warm Climates (Miami: Julia F. Morton, 1987), 249–59; Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia, 250.
4. Michael Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia: An Illustrated Field Guide (Bangkok: RAP Publication, 1995), 144–45. (Call no. RSING 582.160959 JEN); K. S. Mitra, “Overview of Lychee Production in the Asia-Pacific Region,” accessed 5 July 2017; Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia, 248–55; Desmond Tate, Tropical Fruit (Singapore: Archipelago Press, 2007), 48. (Call no. RSING 634.6 TAT)
5. Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia: An Illustrated Field Guide, 144–45.
6. Rofle Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide (Ithaca: Comstock Publishing Associates. 2016), 139 (Call no. RSING 634.6 BLA); Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 144–45.
7. “Lychee,” California Rare Fruit Growers Inc., accessed 3 July 2017.
8. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World, 139; California Rare Fruit Growers Inc, “Lychee”; Yaacob and Subhadrabandhu, Production of Economic Fruits in South-East Asia, 249.
9. Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 144–45; Morton, “Lychee”; Tate, Tropical Fruit, 48.
10. Dannell, Kiss and Stoohrova, Dokmai Garden’s Guide to Fruits and Vegetables, 72.
11. Morton, “Lychee.”
12. Tong Yoke Tho, “Family’s Fruitful Wait,” Straits Times, 28 February 1984, 12; Nicklaus D’Cruz, “S’pore Lychee Tree Does Well,” New Paper, 28 February 1989, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Hsuan Keng, The Concise Flora of Singapore: Gymnosperms and Dicotyledons (Singapore: Singapore University Press, 1990), 120 (Call no. RSING 581.95957 KEN); Mitra, “Overview of Lychee Production in the Asia-Pacific Region.”
14. Eunice Quek, “Liven Up By Lychees: Grandpa’s Canned Fruit Dessert Inspires Magdalene See’s Panna Cotta and Jelly,” Straits Times, 27 January 2013, 41; Amy Van, “Relish the Sweet Lychee,” Today, 1 June 2006, 57. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Living Landmarks,” Straits Times, 24 September 2002, 6 (From NewspaperSG); “Lychee Tree,” National Parks Board, accessed 3 July 2017.
16. “The Learning Forest,” Singapore Botanic Gardens, accessed 3 July 2017.
17. Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World, 139; Wendy Hutton, Tropical Fruits of Malaysia & Singapore (Hong Kong: Periplus Editions, 2000), 49 (Call no. RSING 634.6 HUT); Jensen, Trees Commonly Cultivated in Southeast Asia, 144–45.
18. Vuu, Fruit-Trees in Vietnam, 102–06.
Chin Soo Fang, “Sculptor Loves to Breathe Life into Chunks of Wood.” Straits Times, 6 November 1996, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
Clara Chow, “Trunk Services,” Straits Times, 29 September 2002, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
Lea Wee, “Leaf Those Trees Alone,” Straits Times, 4 November 2001, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
Tan Lee Leng, “The ‘Eyes’ Have It: Be They Longans or Lychees,” Straits Times, 4 September 1985, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
The National Gardening Association, Dictionary of Horticulture. (N.Y.: Viking, 1994). (Call no. R 635.03 DIC)
List of Images
Eric Dannell, Anna Kiss and Martina Stoohrova, Dokmai Garden’s Guide to Fruits and Vegetables in Southeast Asian Market (Bangkok: White Lotus Press, 2011), 72 (Call no. RSING 581.6320959 DAN)
“Lychee Tree,” National Parks Board, accessed 3 July 2017.
Rofle Blancke, Tropical Fruits and Other Edible Plants of the World: An Illustrated Guide (Ithaca: Comstock Publishing Associates. 2016), 139 (Call no. RSING 634.6 BLA)
The information in this article is valid as at 2017 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.