One really great subtropical fruit related to apples, pears, and peaches that grows well in our area is the loquat. Not to be mistaken for kumquats (a type of citrus) I see the tempting orange loquat fruit displayed at this time of year across Charlotte County landscapes. With a bit of a dry season this year, my loquats were a smaller, but extremely sweet! Hardy, tropical-looking and an edible ornamental, the loquat should be a small tree in every yard.
The loquat, also known as the Japanese plum or Japanese medlar, is really an underappreciated small tree. Originally grown in China for a thousand years, this handsome tree was introduced to Florida around 1879 where it is mainly a door yard fruit. While loquats are not a crop in Florida, California actually has some small-scale commercial loquat production. Loquats can grow up to 25 feet tall with long leaves (up to 12 inches) that are dark green and leathery to the touch. White fragrant flowers appear from October to February from the rounded canopy of this evergreen tree. Loquats make great trees where overhead space is limited or as a specimen tree or a patio shade tree. While able to tolerate partial shade, this tree will do best in full sun and accommodates nicely to our higher pH soils.
If ornamental foliage is your main goal, try a cultivar called 'Coppertone' which has copper-colored new foliage with pale pink flowers – a very different look! Another interesting cultivar available is 'Variegata', which has white and green variegated leaves. I have only seen this cultivar in pictures, so it appears to be very rare. There is another species of loquat called Eriobotrya deflexa or Bronze Loquat which has bright red-bronze or coppery color young foliage, but small inedible fruit.
If fruit is what you are looking for, there are several selected cultivars that provide superior tasting fruit. Keep in mind that loquats can be easily propagated by seed. However, these plants do not produce true from seed and may take up to six years to bear. Superior grafted varieties that produce ripe fruit in February/March include 'Champagne' with yellow skinned, white-fleshed, tart fruit; 'Emanuel' with mildly sweet, good flavored fruit and 'Wolfe' which is sweet-tart, with a good spicy flavor. These grafted loquats will begin to produce in 1-2 years. Loquat fruits are excellent eaten fresh or made into jelly, jam, preserves and pies. The oval/round to pear-shaped fruit grows in clusters of 4-30. The loquat peel is smooth to slightly fuzzy and light yellow to orange in color. The juicy flesh is white to orange and tastes sweet to sub-acid. The flavor and texture reminds me somewhat of an apricot. Watch out - there are 1-10 fairly large seeds in each of the 1-2 inch fruits. Fruit must be tree-ripened for the best flavor. A mature tree may bear from 35-300 pounds of fruit per tree per year.
While loquats are considered somewhat “short-lived” trees living only 20-30 years, I would recommend them for every landscape. Late February and March starts the season for this fruit when few other fruits are readily available. Try this tree and its tasty fruit this year! For more information on all types of fruit trees and other gardening issues, please call our Master Gardener volunteers on the Plant Lifeline on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 1 to 4 pm at 764-4340 for gardening help and insight into their role as an Extension volunteer. Don't forget to visit our other County Plant Clinics in the area. Please check this link for a complete list of site locations, dates and times - http://charlotte.ifas.ufl.edu/horticulture/Plant%20Clinics%20Schedule.pdf.
Gilman, E.F. & Watson, D.G. (2016) Eriobaotrya japonica: Loquat, UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Gilman, E.F. & Watson, D.G. (2014) Eriobotrya deflexa: Bronze Loquat, UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Gilman, E.F. & Watson, D.G. (2016) Eriobotrya japonica 'Coppertone': 'Coppertone' Loquat, UF/IFAS
Gilman, E.F. & Watson, D.G. (2016), Eriobotrya japonica 'Variegata': 'Variegata' Loquat UF/IFAS Extension Service.
Crane, J.H. and Caldeira, M.L. (2016), Loquat Growing in the Florida Home Landscape, UF/IFAS Extension Service.