Q: I’m wondering what type of tree this is. A friend gave me the shoot 12 or 13 years ago and said it produced fruit of some sort. But what is it?
Sandy Veit, Folsom
That’s a Japanese loquat tree, (Eriobotrya japonica). In late winter, it produces yellow or orange fruit in clusters.
This evergreen tree is very popular with birds, who love the fruit. The birds also help spread this tree around via seeds from that fruit.
Nicknamed Chinese plum, the fruit tastes like a mild mango mixed with peach and citrus. It’s sweetest when soft and golden yellow. The fruit is often served poached in light syrup.
Loquat can be used like mango – eaten fresh, cooked in pies or tarts, made into jam, jellies, chutneys, or used as a substitute for mango in recipes. The fruit ripens in late winter, which makes it an unusual crop; it’s harvested when few other stone fruit are available in the garden.
A member of the rose family, loquats in California are commonly used as ornamental trees; their handsome evergreen foiliage has a tropical look. In Sacramento, they need a little TLC; most varieties are not frost-hardy below 30 degrees. They’re recommended for USDA zones 9 and above.
In fall or early winter, these small trees bear clusters of creamy white, fragrant flowers. The trick in our area is that frost usually kills the flowers before they set fruit. That may be why you haven’t seen any actual loquats off your tree.
More than 800 varieties of loquats are grown in Asia, but not all produce fruit. The most popular cultivars are Gold Nugget and Mogi. In China, loquat is popular as a flavoring for candy and cough drops.
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