Origin: The loquat is indigenous to southeastern China. It was introduced into Japan and became naturalized there in very early times. It has been cultivated in Japan for over 1,000 years. It has also become naturalized in India and many other areas. Chinese immigrants are presumed to have carried the loquat to Hawaii. It was common as a small-fruited ornamental in California in the 1870's, and the improved variety, Giant, was being sold there by 1887. Japan is the leading producer of loquats, followed by Israel and Brazil.
Distant Affinity: Apples (Malus spp.), Medlar (Mispilus germanica), Stone Fruit (Prunus spp.), Pears (Pyrus spp.) and others.
Growth Habit: The loquat is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with a rounded crown, short trunk and woolly new twigs. The tree can grow 20 to 30 ft. high, but is usually much smaller than this--about 10 ft. Loquats are easy to grow and are often used as an ornamental. Their boldly textured foliage add a tropical look to the garden and contrast well with many other plants. Because of the shallow root system of the loquat, care should be taken in mechanical cultivation not to damage the roots.
Foliage: Loquat leaves are generally eliptical-lanceolate, 5 to 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide. They are dark green and glossy on the upper surface, whitish or rusty-hairy beneath, thick and stiff, with conspicuous parallel, oblique veins. The new growth is sometimes tinged with red. The leaves are narrow in some cultivars and broad in others.
Flowers: Small, white, sweetly fragrant flowers are borne in fall or early winter in panicles at the ends of the branches. Before they open, the flower clusters have an unusual rusty-wooly texture.
Fruits: Loquat fruits, growing in clusters, are oval, rounded or pear-shaped, 1 to 2 inches long with a smooth or downy, yellow or orange, sometimes red-blushed skin. The succulent, tangy flesh is white, yellow or orange and sweet to subacid or acid, depending on the cultivar. Each fruit contains three to five large brown seeds. The loquat is normally pollinated by bees. Some cultivars are self-infertile and others are only partially self-fertile. Flowers of the early and late flushes tend to have abnormal stamens and very little viable pollen. Thinning of flowers and young fruits in the cluster, or clipping off all or part of flower and fruit clusters is sometimes done to enhance fruit size. Under most conditions the loquat tends to develop an alternate-bearing pattern, which can be modified somewhat by cluster thinning in heavy production years. For the highest quality fruit the clusters are sometimes bagged to protect from sunburn and eliminate bird damage.
Location: Loquats are wind tolerant and grow best in full sun, but also do well in partial shade. The round headed trees can be used to shade a patio. Loquats also make attractive espaliers.
Fire blight caused by Erwinia amylovora is a major enemy of the loquat in California, particularly in areas with late spring and summer rains or high humidity. The disease is spread by bees during flowering. Fire blight can be controlled somewhat by the use of preventive fungicides or bactericides and by removal of the the scorched-looking branches, cutting well into live wood. The prunings should be burned or or sealed in a plastic bag before disposal. Crown rot caused by Phytophthora and cankers caused by Pseudomonas Eriobotrya are also occasional problems.
Harvest: Loquat fruits should be allowed to ripen fully before harvesting. They reach maturity in about 90 days from full flower opening. When ripe the fruit develops a distinctive color, depending on the cultivar, and begins to soften. Unripe fruits do not ripen properly off the tree and are excessively acid. Harvest time in California is from March to June. The fruit is difficult to separate from the cluster stems without tearing and must be carefully clipped individually or the whole cluster removed and the fruit then snipped off. Ripe fruit may be stored in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 weeks.
The loquat is comparable to the apple in many aspects, with a high sugar, acid and pectin content. It is eaten as a fresh fruit and mixes well with other fruits in fresh fruit salads or fruit cups. Firm, slightly immature fruits are best for making pies or tarts. The fruits are also commonly used to make jam, jelly and chutney, and are delicious poached in light syrup. Loquats can also be used to make wine.
Commercial Potential: In California, only in the coastal areas from Santa Barbara to San Diego counties is the fruit produced regularly in quantity and of sufficiently good quality to make commercial production feasible. Harvesting is somewhat labor intensive and the difficulty of handling the fragile fruit in addition to the relatively short self life and storage ability, limit the loquat as a major commercial fruit. Even so, the availability of loquats when few or no other local fruits are in the market is a factor in their favor. The fruit is also popular in ethnic markets and is offered in limited amounts in specialty fruit stores and through Farmer's Markets in many communities.
Big Jim: Originated in San Diego, Calif. by Jim Neitzel. Large, roundish to oblong fruit, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Skin pale orange-yellow, medium-thick, easy to peel. Flesh orange-yellow, very sweet but with some acidity, of excellent flavor. Ripens midseason, March to April. Tree vigorous, upright, highly productive.
Advance: Medium to large, pear-shaped to eliptic-round fruit, deep yellow in color, borne in large, compact clusters. Skin downy, thick and tough. Flesh whitish, translucent, melting and very juicy. Flavor subacid, very pleasant, quality good. Ripens in midseason. Seeds commonly 4 or 5, the seed cavity not large. Tree is a natural dwarf, height 5 feet. Highly resistant to fire blight. Self-infertile, pollinate with Gold Nugget.
* Butterfield, Harry M. A History of Subtropical Fruits and Nuts in California. University of California, Agricultural Experiment Station. 1963.
* Facciola, Stephen. Cornucopia: a Source Book of Edible Plants. Kampong Publications, 1990. p. 380.
* Johns, Leslie and Violet Stevenson, Fruit for the Home and Garden. Angus and Robertson, 1985. pp. 159-161.
* Morton, Julia F. Fruits of Warm Climates. Creative Resources Systems, Inc. 1987. pp. 103-108.
* Ortho Books. All About Citrus and Subtropical Fruits. Chevron Chemical Co. 1985. pp. 57-58.