Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) originated in China but has been grown in Japan for more than a millennium. Sometimes called Chinese or Japanese plum, the small fruits are sweet-tart. Some varieties taste a bit like pears and some more like cherries. An early spring fruit, loquats grow mainly in the warmer climates of California, Texas and Florida.
Loquat trees produce clusters of oval or rounded fruit that ranges from sweet to tangy, depending upon variety. The flesh of the fruit may be white, orange or yellow. Skins may be smooth or fuzzy like a peach and range from yellow to orange. The tree can grow from 10 to 30 feet tall with a similar spread. Leaves may be up to a foot long, dark green and lustrous, providing a dark background for the small, fragrant, white flowers that appear in the fall. Fruits appear on most loquat varieties from April to May.
Although dozens of loquat varieties exist, not all are readily available in the United States. Big Jim, Early Red and Gold Nugget all bear fruit with orange flesh. Early Red fruits ripen as early as January in the warmest part of its hardiness range. Tanaka is an orange-fleshed loquat that ripens late in May, but the fruit can wither from sunburn in warmer climates. Advance is a dwarf loquat that grows only 5 feet tall and should be cross-pollinated with Gold Nugget (also called Thales) to produce high quality, white-fleshed fruit. Vista White produces pure white, very sweet fruit later than most other cultivars. The fruit is sweet enough for dessert. Champagne is self-pollinating and produces white-fleshed, sweet fruit with a hint of acidity. Wolfe loquat produces fruit with yellow skin and juicy yellow flesh.
In colder climates where flowers and fruits may die in temperatures below -2.22 degrees Celsius, loquats may be grown in containers and overwintered indoors. The trees grow well outdoors in USDA planting zones eight to 10. Plant in full sun to partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. The trees need fertile soil to produce quality fruit. Space trees 25 to 30 feet apart to avoid shading that may hinder fruit production, or prune trees to control size. Loquats do not produce fruit until they are 2 to 3 years old. Fruit ripens 90 days after flowers open.
Loquats may be used as container or patio plants. Dwarf varieties, kept pruned to stay small, make attractive houseplants if grown in sunny areas of the home. Loquat fruit may be eaten fresh, baked into pies, frozen for later use or turned into jellies and jams. The fruit is high in potassium, vitamin A and beta-carotene.