The lychee (the U.S. Food and Drug Administration spelling) or laichi and lichu is the sole member of the genus Litchi in the soapberry family Sapindaceae. It is a tropical fruit tree. It is primarily found in China, India, Madagascar, Nepal, Bangladesh, Pakistan, southern and central Taiwan, northern Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Southern Africa and Mexico. It is a fragranced fruit with a sweet taste.
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It is a medium-sized evergreen tree, reaching 15–20 m tall, with alternate pinnate leaves, each leaf 15–25 cm long, with 2-8 lateral leaflets 5–10 cm long; the terminal leaflet is absent. The newly emerging young leaves are a bright coppery red at first, before turning green as they expand to full size. The flowers are small, greenish-white or yellowish-white, produced in panicles up to 30 cm long.
The fruit is a drupe, 3–4 cm long and 3 cm in diameter. The outside is covered by a pink-red, roughly-textured rind that is inedible but easily removed. They are eaten in many different dessert dishes. The inside consists of a layer of sweet, translucent white flesh, rich in vitamin C, with a texture somewhat similar to that of a grape only much less moist. The edible flesh consists of a highly developed aril enveloping the seed. The center contains a single glossy brown nut-like seed, 2 cm long and 1–1.5 cm in diameter. The seed, similar to a buckeye seed, is not poisonous but should not be eaten. The fruit matures from July to October, about 100 days after flowering.
Lychees are extensively grown in the native region of China, and also elsewhere in South-East Asia, especially in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India, southern Japan, Taiwan, and more recently in California, Hawaii, Texas, Florida, the wetter areas of eastern Australia and sub-tropical regions of South Africa, Israel and also in the states of Sinaloa and San Luis Potosí (specifically, in La Huasteca) in Mexico. They require a warm subtropical to tropical climate that is cool but also frost-free or with only very slight winter frosts not below -4°C, and with high summer heat, rainfall, and humidity. Growth is best on well-drained, slightly acidic soils rich in organic matter. A wide range of cultivars is 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.
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 commonly sold fresh in Vietnamese, Chinese and 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.
According to folklore, a lychee tree that is not producing much fruit can be girdled, leading to more fruit production.
The Lychee contains on average a total 72 mg of Vitamin C per 100 grams of fruit. On average nine lychee fruits would meet an adult’s daily recommend Vitamin C requirement.
A cup of Lychee fruit provides, among other minerals, for a 2000 calorie diet, 14%DV of Copper, 9%DV of Phosphorous, and 6%DV of Potassium.
Lychees are low in Saturated Fat, Cholesterol and Sodium.
Most of the energy in a lychee is in the form of carbohydrate (sugar).