Thursday, December 16, 2010

Loquat: An Experiment

The loquat (Eriobotrya japonica; links: Wikipedia, Sunset Plant Finder, California Rare Fruit Growers) is a wonderful tree.  It produces small yellowy-orange fruit that taste something like a mix of pear, peach and apricot.  The fruit ripen early in the season (April to May at my place in Southern California), and as the season progresses they transition from tart to sweet.  The evergreen tree is also very attractive, with dark green, shiny foliage.

Loquat in background, Cotoneaster in foreground.

As you might guess from the scientific name, Eriobotrya japonica is native to Asia (actually China rather than Japan, but close enough).  Besides China and Japan, it is grown extensively in California and other areas with Mediterranean climates.  The fruit is not commonly found in stores because it doesn't ship well.  The small fruits also have large seeds, and while you can eat the skins, most people don't -- so the ratio of tasty fruit compared to production effort is low.  Nonetheless, at the time of year when other trees are just starting to set fruit, it really is amazing to enjoy ripe fruit straight from the tree.  And if you take the considerable effort to peel and core a whole bunch of them, loquats make great pie.

Loquat tree towering over house.

Wildlife are also very fond of the fruit.  The large tree on my back patio (in two pictures above and one below) produces ample fruit for our family as well as many raccoons, birds and most interestingly, kit foxes.  (According to Wikipedia, kit foxes are nocturnal carnivores, but every spring they show up mid-afternoon in my yard to snack on loquats.  They're even smart enough to sniff the fruit to ensure proper ripeness and to spit the seeds out while chewing -- a trick I haven't managed to teach my dog.)

Close-up of loquat foliage with Juju on ladder for height reference.

But there's a problem.  Loquats aren't supposed to grow in the part of the world that Earth Echo Farm is located.  According to Sunset's venerable Western Garden Book, the farm is located in climate zone 2B, described as "warmer-summer intermountain climates".  Santa Fe (a little over 50 miles northwest) is climate zone 3A, described as "mild areas of mountain and intermountain climates".  Albuquerque (about 85 miles west) and Santa Rosa (about 30 miles southeast) are climate zone 10, described as "high desert areas of Arizona and New Mexico".   Sunset's map of climate zones in New Mexico as well as a description of the zones can be found here.  According to Sunset, nearby zone 10 is fine for loquats, but not zone 2B where the farm is.

The Western Garden Book is sometimes referred to as the Bible of gardening in the Western U.S.  It truly is a wonderful resource, and its climate zone maps are much more useful and definitive than the USDA plant hardiness zone map.  On the other hand, not to be sacrilegious, but it isn't always right.  Rather than a literal reading, it's best to employ it as a guideline.  We have seen a handful of plants growing in the Anton Chico/Tecolotito area that also aren't supposed to make it zone 2B but will grow in zone 10.  Examples include bird of paradise bush (Caesalpinia gilliesi; links: Wikipedia, Sunset Plant Finder) and velvet or Arizona mesquite (Prosopis velutina; links: Wikipedia, Sunset Plan Finder).

So will loquat trees grow on the farm?  Who knows, but we plan to find out.  On my last visit to the farm, I brought three loquat seedlings dug up from my yard (where the things spring up like weeds, email me if you'd like some).  My folks planted one straight away, and are over-wintering the other two in the greenhouse -- see pictures below.

First loquat seedling victim test subject, planted on the farm.

Next loquat seedling victims test subjects, over-wintering in the greenhouse.

It's only mid-December, but so far the experiment is going well.  As recently posted, the farm had its first snow of the season.  Despite four inches of snow and a low temperature of 13 degrees Fahrenheit, the first loquat seedling is still hanging in there -- see below.

Loquat seedling post-snow and freezing cold.

Come spring we'll post an update on the loquat seedlings on the farm as well as some pictures of loquat fruit from the tree in my yard in Southern California.

6 comments:

  1. Love your story on the loquats. Please update with some more of the story and photos please :)

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  2. We unfortunately picked a record cold winter (see http://www.earthechofarm.com/2011/02/testing-limits.html#more) to start our experiment. Last I spoke with my parents they report that the loquats in the greenhouse are still hanging in there, but the one planted outside has not fared well. Come spring we will do a more detailed assessment and post more pictures.

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  3. hi, i was wondering is your outside loquat still alive? i planted one in my backyard this spring and i wonder how it will do during next winter, since i live in continental europe, 7a zone .... it certainly will be tough :)

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  4. The outside loquat probably didn't make it. All the leaves died, but will wait to see if the tree comes back this spring before we make a final pronouncement. As mentioned in my previous comment, the record cold didn't help. Perhaps if the loquat tree were established or in a more sheltered location it would have made it. You should be OK in 7a as its a bit warmer. The big question is whether your tree will ever produce fruit.

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  5. thanks for the answer, you should definitely try with a sheltered location. my "tree" is planted in location shared with pomegranate, more specifically in-between house and garage, so i hope that will provide needed protection during winter. i would be happy with it just for its ornamental beauty, and in case that any fruit survives cold that would be huge surprise. on our adriatic coast loquats are grown without any problems, but further in continent they are not so common, mainly as exotics they can be found in cities, in protected locations (in-between tall buildings). all the best with loquats :)

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  6. will loquats from seed produce fruit?

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