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Eriobotrya japonica (Thunb.) Lindl. 1821
pronounced: er-ee-oh-BOT-ree-uh juh-PON-ik-uh
(Rosaceae – the rose family)
common names: Loquat, Japanese Plum
Eriobotrya comes from the Greek εριον (erion), wool, and βοτρυιος (botryios), of grapes – woolly grapes; japonicus is botanical Latin for ‘of Japan’. The common name loquat derives from lou gwat, the Cantonese pronunciation of its old classical Chinese name.
The loquat is a large evergreen shrub or small tree with a rounded crown, short trunk and woolly new twigs. It can grow to about 9 m high, but is usually much smaller, around 3 m. It is easy to grow, and is often used as an ornamental. Seedlings are hard to establish, and the loquat is generally grown by grafting, often on to quince stock.
The leaves are generally elliptic-lanceolate, 10–30 cm long by 7–10 cm wide. They are dark green and glossy on the upper surface, whitish or rusty-hairy beneath, thick and stiff, with conspicuous parallel, oblique veins. The new growth is sometimes tinged with red. The leaves are narrow in some cultivars and broad in others.
Small white sweetly fragrant flowers are borne in autumn or early winter in panicles at the ends of the branches. Before they open, the flower clusters have an unusual rusty-woolly texture; this is reflected in the genus name.
The fruits, growing in clusters, are oval, rounded or pear-shaped, 2.5–5 cm long with a smooth or downy, yellow or orange, sometimes red-blushed skin. The succulent, tangy flesh is white, yellow or orange, and sweet to acid, depending on the cultivar. Each fruit contains 3 to 5 large brown seeds. The loquat is normally pollinated by bees. Some cultivars are self-fertile and others partially so. Flowers of the early and late flushes tend to have abnormal stamens and very little viable pollen. Thinning of flowers and young fruits in the cluster, or clipping off all or part of the flower and fruit clusters is sometimes done to enhance fruit size. Under most conditions the loquat tends to develop an alternate-bearing pattern, which can be modified to some extent by cluster thinning in heavy production years. The clusters are sometimes bagged to protect from sunburn and birds.
Pruning is vital if good fruiting is required; otherwise terminal shoots become too numerous and cause a decline in vigour. The pruning is done so as to produce a low head to facilitate fruit thinning and harvest, and also to remove crossing branches and thin dense growth to let light into the centre of the tree. Loquats respond well to quite heavy pruning.
The heartwood of this tree is medium-weight to heavy, pale purple-brown with darker streaks, not clearly differentiated from the sapwood. The grain is straight with an attractive silvery look, the texture is fine and even, and it takes a good polish. According to some users, the wood has very little tendency to split – other users say that it splits rapidly after cutting. It is suitable for poles and posts, for carving, and for making drawing instruments such as rulers. It is also in demand for making stringed musical instruments.
Loquat syrup is used in Chinese medicine for soothing the throat and the digestive and respiratory systems. Eaten in quantity, loquats have a gentle but noticeable sedative effect, which can last up to 24 hours.
The young tree pictured is the 'Nagasakiwase' cultivar; its fruit has has tough skin, deep orange flesh, a high flesh to seed ratio and a very sweet flavour.
Information about medicinal qualities of plants, or about their use as medicines, is for interest only, and is not intended to be used as a guide for the treatment of medical conditions.
Photographs taken in a roadside garden, Birt Street, Picnic Bay, 2011
Page last updated 30th November 2016