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Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Sapindaceae
Subfamily: Sapindoideae
Genus: Litchi
Species: L. chinensis
Binomial name
Litchi chinensis
Chinese 荔枝

The lychee, litchi, leechee, or lichee (Litchi chinensis; Chinese: 荔枝) is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family, Sapindaceae.

It is a tropical and subtropical fruit tree native to the Guangdong and Fujian provinces of China, and now cultivated in many parts of the world.[2] The fresh fruit has a "delicate, whitish pulp" with a floral smell and a fragrant, sweet flavor. Since this perfume-like flavor is lost in the process of canning, the fruit is usually eaten fresh.[3]

An evergreen tree reaching 10–28 metres (33–92 ft) tall, the lychee bears fleshy fruits that are up to 5 cm long and 4 cm wide (2.0 in × 1.6 in). The outside of the fruit is covered by a pink-red, roughly textured rind that is inedible but easily removed to expose a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh. Lychees are eaten in many different dessert dishes, and are especially popular in China, throughout Southeast Asia, along with South Asia and parts of Southern Africa.[3][4]

China is the main producer of lychees, followed by India, with production occurring among other countries in Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent and South Africa.[2]

The lychee has a history and cultivation going back to 2000 BC according to records in China. Cultivation began in the area of southern China, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Wild trees still grow in parts of southern China and on Hainan Island. There are many stories of the fruit's use as a delicacy in the Chinese Imperial Court. It was first described and introduced to the West in 1656 by Michal Boym, a Polish Jesuit missionary (at that time Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth).[5]


  • Taxonomy 1
  • Description 2
  • History 3
  • Cultivation and uses 4
  • Cultivars 5
  • Food 6
    • Nutrients 6.1
    • Phytochemicals 6.2
  • Acute encephalopathy 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


Pierre Sonnerat's drawing from Voyage aux Indes Orientales et à la Chine (1782)

Litchi chinensis was described and named by French naturalist Pierre Sonnerat in his Voyage aux Indes orientales et à la Chine, fait depuis 1774 jusqu'à 1781 (1782). There are three subspecies, determined by flower arrangement, twig thickness, fruit, and number of stamens.

  • Litchi chinensis subsp. chinensis 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 chinensis subsp. philippinensis (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).[6]
  • Litchi chinensis subsp. javensis. 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).[2][7]


Litchi chinensis flowers

Litchi chinensis is an evergreen tree that is frequently less than 19 m (62 ft) tall, sometimes reaching more than 15 m (49 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.[8] Litchee have a similar foliage to the Lauraceae family likely due to convergent evolution. They are adapted by developing leaves that repel water, and are called laurophyll or lauroid leaves. 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.[7]

Fruits mature in 80–112 days, depending on climate, location, and cultivar. Fruits vary in shape from round to ovoid to heart-shaped. The thin, tough inedible skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red, and is smooth or covered with small sharp protuberances. 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.[7]


"Lici Fruit Tree" in Michal Boym's Flora Sinensis (1657)

Cultivation of lychee began in the region of southern China, Malaysia, and northern Vietnam.[2] Wild trees still grow in rainforests in Guangdong province and on Hainan Island. Unofficial records in China refer to lychee as far back as 2000 BC.[9]

In the 1st century, fresh lychees were in such demand at the Imperial Court that a special courier service with fast horses would bring the fresh fruit from Guangdong. There was great demand for lychee in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), according to Cai Xiang, in his Li chi pu (Treatise on Lychees). It was also the favourite fruit of Emperor Li Longji (Xuanzong)'s favoured concubine Yang Yuhuan (Yang Guifei). The emperor had the fruit delivered at great expense to the capital.[3]

In the Chinese classical work, Shanglin Fu, it is stated that the alternate name, meaning leaving its branches, is so-called because once the fruit is picked it deteriorates quickly.

The lychee attracted attention of European travelers, such as Juan González de Mendoza in his History of the great and mighty kingdom of China (1585; English translation 1588), based on the reports of Spanish friars who had visited China in the 1570s gave the fruit high praise:[10]

[T]hey haue a kinde of plummes, that they doo call lechias, that are of an exceeding gallant tast, and neuer hurteth any body, although they shoulde eate a great number of them.

The lychee was scientifically described by Pierre Sonnerat (1748–1814) on a return from his travels to China and Southeast Asia. It was then introduced to the Réunion Island in 1764 by Joseph-François Charpentier de Cossigny de Palma. It was later introduced to Madagascar which has become a major producer.

Cultivation and uses

Germinating lychee seed with its main root (about 3 months old)
A normal-sized seed (left) and a small-sized (Chicken tongue) seed (right)

Lychees are extensively grown in China, cultivars are available, with early and late maturing forms suited to warmer and cooler climates respectively. They are also grown as an ornamental tree as well as for their fruit.[2]

Lychees are commonly sold fresh in Asian markets, and in recent years, also widely in supermarkets worldwide. The red rind turns dark brown when the fruit is refrigerated, but the taste is not affected. It is also sold canned year-round. The fruit can be dried with the rind intact, at which point the flesh shrinks and darkens.[3] Dried lychees are often called lychee nuts, though they are not a real nut.

According to folklore, a lychee tree that is not producing much fruit can be girdled, leading to more fruit production.


The Mauritius cultivar

There are numerous lychee cultivars, with considerable confusion regarding their naming and identification. The same cultivar grown in different climates can produce very different fruit. Cultivars can also have different synonyms in various parts of the world. Southeast Asian countries, along with Australia, use the original Chinese names for the main cultivars. India grows more than a dozen different cultivars. South Africa grows mainly the 'Mauritius' cultivar. Most cultivars grown in the United States were imported from China, except for the 'Groff', which was developed in the state of Hawaii.[4]

Different cultivars of lychee are popular in the varying growing regions and countries. In China, popular cultivars include: Sanyuehong, Baitangying, Baila, Shuidong, Feizixiao, Dazou, Heiye, Nuomici, Guiwei, Huaizhi, Lanzhu, and Chenzi. In Vietnam, the most popular cultivar is Vai thieu Hai Duong. In Florida, production is based on several cultivars, including Mauritius, Brewster, and Hak Ip.[7][13] India grows more than a dozen named cultivars, including Shahi (Highest Pulp %), Dehra Dun, Early Large Red, Kalkattia, Rose Scented.[4][14]


Lychees for sale at a Malaysian fruit stall
Lychees, raw, 100 g
Peeled lychee fruits
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 276 kJ (66 kcal)
16.53 g
Sugars 15.23 g
Dietary fiber 1.3 g
0.44 g
0.83 g
Thiamine (B1)
0.011 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.065 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.603 mg
Vitamin B6
0.1 mg
Folate (B9)
14 μg
Vitamin C
71.5 mg
5 mg
0.13 mg
10 mg
0.055 mg
31 mg
171 mg
1 mg
0.07 mg

Link to USDA Database entry
Vitamin B6/Folate values were available
Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database


Fresh whole lychee contains a total 72 mg of vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit, an amount representing 86% of the Daily Value (DV) (table, right).[15] On average, consuming nine peeled lychee fruits would meet an adult’s daily vitamin C requirement but otherwise would supply little nutrient content (table). Lychees are low in saturated fat and sodium.


Lychees have moderate amounts of polyphenols, shown in one French study to be higher than several other fruits analyzed, such as grapes and apples.[16] For phenolic composition, flavan-3-ol monomers and dimers were the major compounds representing about 87% of total polyphenols that declined in content during storage or browning.[17] Cyanidin-3-glucoside represented 92% of total anthocyanins.[17] Lychee contains oligonol, a short-chain polyphenol under preliminary evaluation for its potential biological properties.[18][19]

In traditional Chinese medicine, lychee is known as a fruit with "hot" properties (see the six excesses, for more details on the definition of heat).[20]

Acute encephalopathy

Since the end of the 1990s unexplained outbreaks of encephalopathy occurred appearing to affect only children in India[21] and northern Vietnam (where it was called Ac Mong encephalitis after the Vietnamese word for nightmare[22]), almost exclusively during the lychee harvest season in late May to early June.[23]

Cases have been linked to the consumption of lychee fruit in a 2013 CDC investigation in India.[24] The CDC described it a "noninflammatory encephalopathy" because it found no evidence of an infectious etiology, but could not rule out exposure to a toxin or toxicant. Because low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) of less than 70 mg/dL in the undernourished children on admission was common, and associated with a poorer outcome (44% of all cases were fatal) the CDC identified the illness as a hypoglycemic encephalopathy, while no specific etiology has been determined.[24]

The ongoing study includes laboratory evaluation of environmental toxins and toxicants, including markers for methylenecyclopropylglycine (MCPG), a homologue of hypoglycin A, found in lychee seeds known to cause hypoglycemia in animal studies.[25]

See also


  1. ^ Sonn"Litchi chinensis". Germplasm Resources Information Network. United States Department of Agriculture. 1995-10-17. Retrieved 2010-01-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f "Lychee". Morton, J. 1987. Lychee. p. 249–259. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  3. ^ a b c d Davidson, Jane L.; Davidson, Alan; Saberi, Helen; Jaine, Tom (2006). The Oxford companion to food. Oxford [Oxfordshire]: Oxford University Press.  
  4. ^ a b c Hosahalli Ramaswamy; Diane Barrett; Laszlo P. Somogyi (2005). Processing fruits: science and technology. Boca Raton: CRC Press. p. 687.  
  5. ^ Kajdański, Edward (1999). "Flora Chin". Michał Boym: ambasador Państwa Środka (in Polski). Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza. p. 183.  
  6. ^ "Taxon: Litchi chinensis Sonn. subsp. philippinensis (Radlk.) Leenh.". Germsplasm Resources Information Network, USDA. Retrieved 2013-10-30. 
  7. ^ a b c d Courtney Menzel (2005). Litchi and longan: botany, production and uses. Wallingford, Oxon, UK: CABI Pub. p. 26.  
  8. ^ "Litchi chinensis" (PDF). Flora of China 12: 6, 16. 
  9. ^ Andersen, Peter A.; Schaffer, Bruce (1994). Handbook of environmental physiology of fruit crops. Boca Raton: CRC Press. pp. 123–140.  
  10. ^ Juan González de Mendoza, The history of the great and mighty kingdom of China and the situation thereof. English translation by Robert Parke, 1588, in an 1853 reprint by Hakluyt Society. Page 14. The Spanish version (in a 1944 reprint) has lechías.
  11. ^ Papademetriou MK, Dent FJ (2002). "Lychee production in the Asia-Pacific Region" (PDF). Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations, Office for Asia and the Pacific, Bangkok, Thailand. Retrieved 8 January 2015. 
  12. ^ Crane, Jonathan H.; Carlos F. Balerdi; Ian Maguire (2008) [1968]. "Lychee Growing in the Florida Home Landscape". University of Florida. Retrieved 30 June 2009. 
  13. ^ Boning, Charles R. (2006). Florida's Best Fruiting Plants: Native and Exotic Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc. p. 132. 
  14. ^ Kadam, S. S.; Salunkhe, D. K. (1995). Handbook of fruit science and technology: production, composition, storage, and processing. New York: M. Dekker. p. 436.  
  15. ^ "Nutrient contents for Litchis, raw, per 100 g". USDA. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  16. ^ Pierre Brat, Stéphane Georgé, Annick Bellamy, Laure Du Chaffaut, Augustin Scalbert, Louise Mennen, Nathalie Arnault and Marie Josèphe Amiot (September 2006). "Daily Polyphenol Intake in France from Fruit and Vegetables". The Journal of Nutrition 136 (9): 2368–2373.  
  17. ^ a b Donglin Zhang, Peter C. Quantick and John M. Grigor (2000). "Changes in phenolic compounds in Litchi (Litchi chinensis Sonn.) fruit during postharvest storage". Postharvest Biology and Technology 19 (2): 165–172.  
  18. ^ Aruoma OI1, Sun B, Fujii H, Neergheen VS, Bahorun T, Kang KS, Sung MK (2006). "Low molecular proanthocyanidin dietary biofactor Oligonol: Its modulation of oxidative stress, bioefficacy, neuroprotection, food application and chemoprevention potentials". BioFactors 27 (1-4): 245–65.  
  19. ^ Thirunavukkarasu M1, Zhan L, Wakame K, Fujii H, Moriyama H, Bagchi M (2012). "Safety of oligonol, a highly bioavailable lychee-derived polyphenolic antioxidant, on liver, kidney and heart function in rats". Toxicol Mech Methods 22 (7): 555–9.  
  20. ^ "One Lychee Equals Three Torches. Experts Call for Caution Over Fruit Illnesses)". Retrieved 17 June 2011. 
  21. ^ "Litchi virus kills 8 kids in Malda". Times of India. 8 June 2014. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Paireau, J; Tuan, N. H.; Lefrançois, R; Buckwalter, M. R.; Nghia, N. D.; Hien, N. T.; Lortholary, O; Poirée, S; Manuguerra, J. C.; Gessain, A; Albert, M. L.; Brey, P. T.; Nga, P. T.; Fontanet, A (2012). "Litchi-associated acute encephalitis in children, Northern Vietnam, 2004-2009". Emerging Infectious Diseases 18 (11): 1817–24.  
  23. ^ Singh HP, Babita S. "Lychee production in India". Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN. Retrieved 12 June 2014. 
  24. ^ a b Shrivastava A, et al. (30 January 2015). "Outbreaks of Unexplained Neurologic Illness — Muzaffarpur, India, 2013–2014". MMWR 64 (3): 49–53. Retrieved 30 Jan 2015. 
  25. ^ Gray, D. O.; Fowden, L (1962). "Alpha-(Methylenecyclopropyl)glycine from Litchi seeds". The Biochemical journal 82: 385–9.  

Further reading

  • Boning, Charles R. (2006). "Lychee". Florida's Best Fruiting Plants: Native and Exotic Trees, Shrubs, and Vines. Sarasota, Florida: Pineapple Press, Inc. pp. 130–133. 
  • Hui, Y. H. (2008). "Lychee". Handbook of Fruits and Fruit Processing. New Delhi: Wiley India. pp. 606–611.  
  • Kadam, S. S.; S. S. Deshpande (1995). "Lychee". In D. K. Salunkhe and S. S. Kadam. Handbook of fruit science and technology: production, composition, storage, and processing. New York: M. Dekker. pp. 435–443.  
  • Rosengarten, Frederic (2004). "'"Litchi 'Nuts. The book of edible nuts. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 299–300.  

External links

  • Elychee, Lychee fruit facts
  • Fruits of Warm Climates: Lychee
  • California Rare Fruit Growers: Lychee Fruit Facts
  • Lychees in Australia
  • Lychee production in Australia
  • Lychees, longans and rambutans Crop management in Australia
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