Lychees

Yan Diczbalis, Queensland DAFF

Lychee fruit on tree. Yan Diczbalis, Queensland DAF

Industry overview

Australian Lychee Growers Association represent the biosecurity interests of lychee growers and the industry.

In 2013–14, lychee production was valued at $14 million (LVP). Lychees are a high value summer fruit in Australia. The main varieties of lychees grown are Kwai May Pink, Bengal, Fay Zee Siu, Kaimana, Salathiel, Souey Tung, Tai So and Wai Chee. Current annual production ranges from 2,000 to 3,500 tonnes, depending on climatic and seasonal conditions. While grower numbers have reduced over the past decade, a number of existing growers have increased their plantings keeping production steady.

There are approximately 250 lychee orchards in Queensland and NSW, but the bulk of the annual tonnage is produced in the North Queensland tablelands and central and south east Queensland.

The majority of lychees are grown for domestic consumption. In 2015, Australia commenced export shipments to the United States and is seeking access to mainland China where counter season production confers an advantage to Australian producers.


James Drinnan, Queensland DAFF

Flowering lychee. James Drinnan, Queensland DAF

Pollination information

The lychee (Litchi chinensis) is a subtropical tree from the Sapindaceae family and is thought to be native to southern China. The lychee is an evergreen tree which grows to heights of more than 20 m. The lychee fruit is a drupe, 3–4 cm long and 3 cm in diameter, covered by a pink/red roughly textured rind which covers an inside layer of sweet and sour, translucent white flesh which surrounds the inner seed.

Although variable between growing regions, flowering usually occurs over a 6 week period from between July to October. Flowers are borne on multi-branched terminal inflorescences, which are generally referred to as flower panicles. A panicle can have up to 3,000 flowers, although only about 200 are pollinated and of these only 5 to 60 will develop into mature fruit.

There are three distinct flower types, two male types and one female, which are all borne on the same panicle. The usual sequence of flower opening, which occurs over a 2 to 6 week period, is male flower, female hermaphrodite flowers which set fruit, and male hermaphrodite flowers that do not set fruit. The male flowers in the first and third stages release pollen to fertilise the female flowers. Thus, there needs to be an overlap of the male stages with the female stage. Most of the pollen used for fertilisation is usually supplied by the third stage male hermaphrodite flowers.

James Drinnan, Queensland DAFF

Honey bee pollinating lychee flowers. James Drinnan, Queensland DAF

Self-pollination may occur in lychee through wind pollination however, flowers are generally recognised as self-sterile and insects are beneficial because they can transport pollen from anther to stigma for fruit to set. Only partial overlapping between male and female flowering occurs within a cultivar and so inter-planting of at least two different cultivars is necessary for adequate fruit set. Several insects have been reported to visit lychee flowers overseas including Coleoptera, Hemiptera, Homoptera and Lepidoptera. However, the honey bee is widely recognised as the principal pollinator. In Australia, both honey bees and Tetragonula sp are found on lychee blossoms, but preliminary studies suggest that the native social bee (Tetragonula sp) may be too small to be effective pollinators of the fruit.

Many studies have shown significant increases in yield of lychee crops as a result of honey bee pollination, including fruit set being three times greater when inflorescences were open to honey bees when compared to trees that were bagged to exclude them.

Lychee yields can sometimes be unreliable, erratic and rarely approach the capacity of the tree. Crossed fruit are generally heavier and yields in rows with two cultivars adjacent to each other have been shown to be 36 per cent higher in lychee. All of these studies clearly show that lychee require at least one other cultivar and an abundance of insect pollinators for pollen transfer to assist with pollination by wind. Bringing in honey bee hives could be necessary to increase pollinator numbers, increase crossing between cultivars and produce a good quality yield. For this reason, it is recommended that 2-3 hives per ha would be adequate for optimal pollination of lychee.


Additional pollination information

Additional fact sheets and web links about the pollination of this crop are listed below. Please be aware that some of the information was developed overseas, and environmental and seasonal variations may occur.

Lychee and longan pollination fact sheet, The Pollination Program (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Horticulture Australia Limited)

Lychee, Purdue University, Indiana


Value of production and distribution

Annual value of lychee production 2007–14 (LVP)
Distribution of lychee production by state and territory 2013–14 (based on LVP)

 


References

The pollination information is an excerpt from the Lychee and longan pollination fact sheet, The Pollination Program (Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation and Horticulture Australia Limited) and from personal communication with James Drinnan (Queensland DAF) and the Australian Lychee Growers’ Association.

The industry overview and graphs on the value of production and crop distribution are from the National Plant Biosecurity Status Report (2015), Plant Health Australia, Canberra