Litchi chinensis

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Litchi chinensis


Branchlets terete, striate, smooth, or densely lenticellate. Inflorescences ferrugineous-strigose. Flowers greenish white or yellowish, fragrant. Stamens: Seeds ellipsoid, c. 2 by 1.5 cm, testa shining (blackish) brown, hilum basal, circular, 6-7 mm cliam., arillode bluish white or light yellow to pinkish, up to 5 mm thick when fresh.


See subspecies.


1. Though being one of the Sapinda-ceous genera best known to the general public, to the taxonomist Litchi remains a genus full of mystery regarding its history, phytogeography, and taxonomy. The written history of Litchi chinensis goes back to c. 100 B.C. when the emperor Wu Ti of the Han Dy nasty tried in vain to introduce it from northern Indjo-China to Central E China. About the 8th century many varieties were widely cultivated in the southeastern provinces of China, probably for at least three centuries. Culture concentrated until the end of the 18th century in the coastal districts of the provinces of Kwangtung and Fukien, apparently at some time also in some more southern provinces, especially Yunnan, and probably in northern Indo-China (for history see Groff 1921). It seems astonishing that the culture of this highly prized fruit tree remained restricted for such a long time to a relatively restricted region, although the Chinese were for centuries the most active colonists o|* the Far East — though mainly as traders, far less as farmers. One reason may be that the seeds of Litchi are viable for a few days only outside the fresh fruits; another, that the propagation and culture of this species requires great skill, the species having very special demands as to climate and soil.
As in so many cases of old economic plants it is difficult to tell whether wild-growing specimens are really indigenous or naturalized. However, the restricted region where it has been in cultivation for such a long time very probably includes its original are a. Its climatologie requirements give further indications where to look for its original area. The culture of Litchi in SE China is restricted by frost and drought, so that its natural area was probably a region with a somewhat warmer and wetter climate. On the other hand, subsp. chinensis requires a drier and cooler season, otherwise it will hardly flower, so it is adapted to a region with a monsoon climate. All this agrees well with Poi-lane (1967) who reported Litchi chinensis as being fairly common growing in the wild in N Vietnam and Cambodia.
2. It is not clear whether the fruits of L. chinensis are finally dehiscent or not. They show a distinct suture, at least on the inside. It seems probable that at least the fruits of subsp. philippinensis are normally dehiscent, and possibly those of the other subspecies would behave in the same way when overripe.
3. Nephelium lit-chi is illegitimate as it refers back to Litchi chinensis via Sapindus edulis Aiton, and the epithet chinensis should have been used.


Groff, Lychee and Longan. 1921: f. 2
Poilane - in J. Agr. Trop. Bot. Appl. 1967: 541
Merr. - in Enum. Philipp. Flow. Pl. 1923: 504
Grof, Lychee and Longan. 1921
Ridley, Dispersal. 1930: 487
K. Ramesh Rao - in Ind. Woods. 1963: 225
Radlk. - in Engl., Pflanzenr. 98. 1932: 916
Radlk. - in Engl., Pflanzenr. 98. 1932: 916
Leenh. - in Blumea. 1978: 398
Lecomte - in Fl. Indo-Chine. 1912: f. 131
Schneider - in Bull. For. Philipp. 1916: 147
Dunn & Tutcher - in Kew Bull. 1912: 67
Radlk. [ex Whitford - in Philipp. J. Sc, Bot. 1914: 458
Radlk. - in Engl., Pflanzenr. 98. 1932: f. 21
Backer & Bakh. f. - in Fl. Java. 1965: 137
Backer - in Fl. Batavia. 1907: 348
Wight - in Ic. 1838: t. 43
Blanco, Fl. Filip., ed. 2. 1845: 201
Watt - in Diet. 1891: 346
Merr. - in Enum. Philipp. Flow. Pl. 1923: 504
Corner, Wayside Trees. 1940: 592
Hiern - in Hook. f., Fl. Br. India 1. 1875: 687
Radlk. - in Engl., Pflanzenr. 98. 1932: 915
Blume - in Rumphia. 1847: 106
Blanco - in Fl. Filip., ed. 3. 1878: 10
Gagnep., Fl. Indo-Chine. 1950: f. 121: 8-11
Blume, Bijdr. 1825: 233