Bertauski: Loquat trees good choice for homeowners
Fame is relative and often short-lived.
I spoke to grade-schoolers about writing. Afterward, one of them asked for my autograph because I must be famous. The others lined up, each with a sheet of notebook paper that I gladly signed. The last young man didn’t want my autograph. He just wanted to know my favorite food.
The loquat tree is having its 15 minutes of fame this time of year because of its prolific fruit production. In fact, it might have gone unnoticed in your neighborhood for years until now. Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is a medium-sized tree in the Rosacease family that also includes apples, pears and peaches.
It can grow 30 feet tall, and the evergreen leaves are long and leathery with a slight tropical appeal. This size of the plant and appealing foliage often make it a good ornamental choice for homeowners.
Loquats have been loaded with small, orange fleshy fruit, technically called pome, for weeks. In subtropical regions of the world, including parts of California, the tree is grown commercially for its fruit. In the Lowcountry, it’s mostly used as an ornamental tree in the landscape.
There are numerous loquat cultivars that offer a variety of fruit sizes and tastes, but in the nursery trade, it’s generally the standard species sold that thrives in the Lowcountry climate.
Loquats are self-pollinating, developing rounded fruit in clusters at the end of a branch. Like most fruit trees, additional loquat trees allows for cross-pollination, improving the size and quality of fruit.
The white flowers appear in the fall and aren’t particularly showy, but they will attract a whole host of pollinators, including honeybees and native bees.
The fruit starts off green, transforming to yellow then orange as it matures. Soft, orange fruit can be plucked from the tree around the beginning of April and eaten with or without the skin. It will contain multiple large seeds that are mildly toxic if cracked opened.
The seeds are easily enough to avoid and large quantities of seed contents would have to be consumed for symptoms to develop. There are numerous ways to use the fruit, such as sauces, jam and pie filling, but most people eat them fresh off the limb.
The fruit attracts more than people. Wasps and bees will dip in for a taste when the mature fruit ripens and falls. These insects mind their own business, but if you’re concerned with these stingers, maybe this isn’t the tree for you.
Raking and removing spent fruit will reduce insects. However, keep fruit in mind when selecting a location. Misplaced loquats can make a mess out of a sidewalk, patio or the hood of your car.
There are few insect pests that cause loquats problems in the Lowcountry. Occasionally, something will nibble on the foliage, but nothing of concern. There are nutrient deficiencies that cause a slight discoloration or margin burn, but they are easily correctable. As with most trees, soil testing can uncover nutrient deficiencies.
Loquats are susceptible to diseases that affect trees in the rose family. Fire blight is a bacterial disease that can scorch foliage and, in some cases, cause instant death. However, fire blight doesn’t appear to be a common problem on loquat, not that I’ve witnessed. Crown rot, though, can occasionally occur when growing in frequently wet soil. The entire tree wilts and dies.
Loquats thrive in full sun and well-drained soil. They are shallow-rooted trees that do not tolerate wet soil. Crown rot is caused by a fungal pathogen that causes sunken bark near the base of the trunk, cutting off the transportation of nutrients and water. The tree begins to wilt, all at once. At that point, you prune the trunk near the ground and drag the tree to the curb because it’s over. If soil is frequently wet, mounding up with topsoil will improve drainage.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.