My favourite fruit of all time.
Litchi chinensis is an evergreen tree that is frequently less than 10 m (33 ft) tall, sometimes reaching more than 15 m (49 ft). The bark is grey-black, the branches a brownish-red. Leaves are 10 to 25 cm (3.9 to 9.8 in) or longer, with leaflets in 2-4 pairs.[6] Litchee have a similar foliage to the Lauraceae family likely due to convergent evolution. They are adapted by developing leaves that repel water, similar to laurophyll or lauroide leaves which are adapted to high rainfall and humidity in laurel forest habitats. Flowers grow on a terminal inflorescence with many panicles on the current season's growth.
The panicles grow in clusters of ten or more, reaching 10 to 40 cm (3.9 to 16 in) or longer, holding hundreds of small white, yellow, or green flowers that are distinctively fragrant.

Fruits mature in 80-112 days, depending on climate, location, and cultivar. Fruits reach up to 5 cm (2.0 in) long and 4 cm (1.6 in) wide, varying in shape from round, to ovoid, to heart-shaped. The thin, tough inedible skin is green when immature, ripening to red or pink-red, and is smooth or covered with small sharp protuberances. The skin turns brown and dry when left out after harvesting. The fleshy, edible portion of the fruit is an aril, surrounding one dark brown inedible seed that is 1 to 3.3 cm (0.39 to 1.3 in) long and .6 to 1.2 cm (0.24 to 0.47 in) wide. Some cultivars produce a high percentage of fruits with shriveled aborted seeds known as 'chicken tongues'. These fruit typically have a higher price, due to having more edible flesh.[5]


Cultivation of lychee began in the region of southern China, Malaysia, and northern Vietnam. Wild trees still grow in rainforest in Guangdong province and on Hainan Island. Unofficial records in China refer to lychee as far back as 2000 BCE.[7]
In the 1st century, fresh lychees were in such demand at the Imperial Court, that a special courier service with fast horses would bring the fresh fruit from Guangdong. There was great demand for lychee in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), according to Ts'ai Hsiang, in his Li chi pu (Treatise on Lychees). It was also the favourite fruit of Emperor Li Longji (Xuanzong)'s favoured concubine Yang Yuhuan (Yang Guifei). The emperor had the fruit delivered at great expense to the capital.[2]
In the Chinese classical work, Shanglin Fu, it is related that the alternate name, meaning leaving its branches, is so-called because once the fruit is picked it deteriorates quickly.
The lychee early attracted attention of European travelers. Juan Gonzalez de Mendoza in his History of the great and mighty kingdom of China (1585; English translation 1588), based on the reports of Spanish friars who had visited China in the 1570s, highly praises the fruit:[8]
[T]hey haue a kinde of plummes, that they doo call lechias, that are of an exceeding gallant tast, and neuer hurteth any body, although they shoulde eate a great number of them.
The lychee was scientifically described by Pierre Sonnerat (1748-1814) on a return from his travel to China and Southeast Asia. It was then introduced to the Reunion Island in 1764 by Joseph-Francois Charpentier de Cossigny de Palma. It was later introduced to Madagascar which has become a major producer.