Don’t overlook this ornamental tree with edible fruit

By Heather Kirk-Ballard

LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

(12/20/19) Are you looking for a small to medium-sized, evergreen landscape tree that is easy to care for, has fragrant, delicate, white flowers and also makes delicious fruit? Look no further. Loquat is the tree for you. These trees are in full bloom right now, and the penetrating fragrance has called the bees out on warm days.

Also called Japanese plum (Eriobotyra japonica), loquat is native to Southeast Asia. The fruit is said to have been cultivated in Japan for more than 1,000 years, and that country is the leading producer of loquats with an annual crop of 17,000 tons.

According to Julia Morton, who was an expert on subtropical plants at the University of Miami, loquats were brought to the West by a botanist in 1690. They were first planted in the National Gardens of Paris in 1784 and in the Royal Botanical Gardens of England in 1787.

Loquat is now cultivated in India, East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, South America, Central America, Mexico and California. It was introduced in 1867 to south Florida and grows north to the Carolinas. Chinese immigrants are thought to have brought it to Hawaii. Grown in greenhouses as an ornamental tree in the North, it does not produce fruit.

More than 800 varieties can be across the globe. Loquats are a popular ornamental landscape tree in Louisiana due to its small size and evergreen habit. Like satsumas and persimmons, loquats are some of the most cold-tolerant fruit trees we can grow.

Trees are small to medium sized, growing 10 to 30 feet tall with a moderate growth rate, a rounded crown, thick evergreen leaves and short trunks. Tolerant of most soils types, loquats can be drought tolerant and prefer good drainage.

Loquats are easily propagated by seed for ornamental uses. They produce beautiful white flowers in late fall to early winter and attractive, small, light-yellow to apricot-colored fruit in the spring. They’re a great option for a foundation tree or edible landscape plant.

The popularity of the fruit is lacking here in the United States compared to Asia. Naturally low in calories, they are a good source of calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium and vitamin A, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Typically eaten fresh, peeled and seeded, the fruit is also a good source of gelatin and can be made into jams and jellies.

Loquats prefer a subtropical to mild-temperature climates. The trees should be planted in protected areas on the south side of buildings. Temperatures in the 20s can terminate or damage blossoms, but fruits and trees are cold hardy to 10 degrees. Sunburn can cause fruit loss in hot climates with long summers.

Ornamental loquats are low-maintenance and typically grown from seed. Remove vegetation within 2 or 3 feet of the base of the tree to reduce weed competition. An application of one pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per 8 to 10 feet of height during March is adequate in most Louisiana soils.

Loquats grown for fruit production benefit from good irrigation and fertilization. They are also typically grafted or budded and not easily rooted from cuttings. Fertilize with 1 pound 6-6-6 three times a year during active growth for each tree 8 to 10 feet in height.

Loquats have both male and female flowers on the same plant, but they need bees or other insects pollination. Having multiple trees and several varieties will enhance fruit set. Thin flowers and young fruits of clusters to enhance fruit size.

Seedling trees are not identical to the parent and usually take 8 to 10 years to produce. Layered or grafted trees produce fruit within five years. Old seedling trees can be converted by cutting them back and inserting bud wood of a different cultivar.

Loquats do not have many pest problems. Occasionally, aphids, scale, fruit flies and birds as well as some leaf spot and fleck have been reported. Fire blight is the most destructive disease and can sometimes be a significant problem. Pruning out diseased limbs helps control the disease. Heavy fertilization can increase fire blight damage.

Some good selections for the South are:

  • Advance has medium to large fruit with excellent flavor and late-ripening fruit. The tree is a natural dwarf at 5 feet tall and is highly resistant to pear blight. Self-infertile, it’s a good pollinator for other cultivars.
  • Champagne is small to large with excellent flavor and ripens mid- to late season. Self-infertile.
  • Early Red has medium to large fruit with fair to excellent flavor. It produces earliest in season in late January to early February.
  • Olivier was once considered the best loquat for the South. But it has had fire blight problems in Louisiana.
  • Premier has large fruit with good flavor. A late-ripening variety, it is good for home orchards.
  • Tanaka has medium, sweet fruit with excellent taste. It ripens late at the beginning of May. The tree grows to about 10 feet tall and is partially self-fertile. This variety is most cold-tolerant, and pollination by Advance can double the yield.
  • Thales, aka Gold Nugget, has large, orange-yellow, orange flesh with sweet, apricot-like flavor. It ripens late in season with fruits only a few to a cluster.
  • Wolfe has medium fruit with excellent flavor. The tree reaches 25 feet tall and produces every year at 100 pounds when it five years old and 300 pounds when 15 to 20 years old.
  • Big Jim and Macbeth are two varieties that have also done well in south Louisiana. A pollinator variety improves fruit set.

Loquats reach maturity in 90 days from flower opening. Color development is the best guide for ripeness. If not fully ripened, the fruits are very acidic. Loquats are difficult to harvest, so clip clusters from stalks to avoid tearing the skin, and then clip the individual fruits from the cluster. Loquats will keep for 10 days at room temperature and 60 days in cool storage and three days after removing from storage.

Loquats are a well-known ornamental landscape tree that lack respect for the fruit. Let’s show them some love.

Loquat flowers with bees.

Bees work on a group of loquat flowers, looking for nectar and gathering pollen to move from one flower to another. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Loquat tree in bloom.

The loquat has fragrant, delicate, white flowers and also makes delicious fruit. Photo by Heather Kirk-Ballard/LSU AgCenter

Loquat tree with fruit.

Loquats flower in the fall, and the fruit matures in the spring. LSU AgCenter file photo by John Pyzner

12/20/2019 5:50:56 PM
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