Loquat, Japanese Plum (Rose Family)
Eriobotrya japonica (Rosaceae)
Loquats are highly ornamental fruit trees with a strange habit of flowering in the winter. Most fruit trees in the Rosaceae (think peaches, plums, etc.) are from colder climates, and go completely dormant in the winter time, blooming as soon as spring arriveswith their fruits ripening in the summer. Loquats, however, begin their flowering cycle just as many deciduous trees are beginning to drop their leaves. The leaves can handle very cold temperatures (down to eighteen degrees,) but a hard frost or dry cold below thirty degrees can cause the young fruit to abort. This combination of circumstances allows the loquat, which can be a bit of a messy tree in areas where it sets fruit, to be used as a street tree in areas with regular mild freezes.
The fruit itself is sweet and acidic, and tastes much like a nectarine. The fruits are small, from the size of a grape to a golf ball, and must first be peeled of their hairy skin before being eaten. There are usually three to ten seeds inside. This need for cleaning such a small fruit translates into a lot of work to make a pie or jar of jelly, but this author has made both and they are well worth it. The flowers are magnificently fragrant, although the tree is mainly pollinated by flies, and loquats are grown by many people as fragrant plants rather than fruit trees (especially in areas which experience light freezes). The worst pest for loquat fruit in Florida is the Caribbean Fruit Fly.
There are hundreds of cultivars of loquats in Asia, where they have been grown and prized for many centuries; the cultivar we have growing here in our Tropical Fruit Garden is ‘Christmas,’ which has been selected because its fruit ripens earlier than any others, usually before the warm weather comes.
Text by David Troxell