The production of loquats in Japan is estimated at twenty million pounds annually. From one small village in the Che-kiang Province of China, twenty thousand dollars' worth have been shipped in a single year. In the Occident this excellent fruit has not attained the commercial prominence which it deserves, nor has it been improved through cultivation and selection to any such extent as have many other Asiatic fruits now grown in Europe and America.
To northern residents and travelers in tropical and subtropical countries, the loquat should possess an especial attraction, inasmuch as it recalls in flavor and character the fruits of the North. As a matter of fact, it is a close relative of the apple and the pear, while its flavor distinctly suggests the cherry. Those whose palates have been educated to demand the subacid sprightly flavored fruits of the Temperate Zone often criticize tropical fruits as being too sweet and rich. The loquat is not open to this objection, and it can be grown throughout the tropics wherever there are elevations of a few thousand feet.
To reach its greatest perfection, the loquat requires particular climatic conditions. Quite satisfactory results are obtained with it, however, in situations where the plant cannot realize its best possibilities. The tree is simple of culture, and has become widely distributed throughout the tropics and sub-tropics.
Not until rather recently has it been planted in regions where systematic attention is given to the improvement of fruits; hence its development to meet the ideals of European and American pomologists, while accomplished in part, is still far from complete. The progress made during the last twenty years is highly encouraging, and several varieties now available are sufficiently good to merit extensive cultivation.
Because of its ornamental appearance alone, the loquat is often planted in parks and gardens. It is a small tree, rarely more than 30 feet high and commonly not exceeding 20 or 25 feet. It has a short trunk, usually branching two or three feet from the ground to form a crown round or oval in form, and normally compact and dense. The leaves, which are somewhat crowded towards the ends of the stout woolly branchlets, are elliptic-lanceolate to obovate-lanceolate in outline, 6 to 10 inches long, remotely toothed, deep green in color, and woolly below. The fragrant white flowers are 1/2 inch broad and are borne in terminal woolly panicles 4 to 8 inches long. The calyx is composed of five small, imbricate, acute teeth; the corolla has five oblong-ovate clawed petals, white in color and delicate in texture. The stamens are twenty, the pistils five, joined toward the base. The fruits, which are borne in loose clusters, are commonly round, oval, or pyriform, 1 to 3 inches in length, pale yellow to orange in color, and somewhat downy on the surface. The skin is about as thick as that of a peach, but slightly tougher; the flesh firm and meaty in some varieties, melting in others, ranging from almost white to deep orange in color, juicy, and of a sprightly, subacid flavor. The seeds may . be as many as ten, since there are five cells in the ovary and two ovules in each cell; but usually several of the ovules are aborted, and not more than three to five seeds develop. They are ovate in form, flattened on the sides, light brown in color, and about 3/4 of an inch long. Sometimes fruits with only one seed are found, and varieties constantly one-seeded have been reported.
Although formerly considered indigenous to Japan and China, it is now believed that the loquat was originally limited to the latter country. The late Frank N. Meyer considered the species to be "in all probability indigenous to the hills of the mild-wintered, moist regions of central-eastern China." He found it in a semi-wild state near Tangsi, in Chekiang Province, a region in which loquats are extensively cultivated for market. The Chinese graft superior varieties on seedling stocks, but according to Meyer 1 they are not very skillful in this work. Their finest variety is said to be the pai bibaw or white loquat.
The loquat has been cultivated in Japan since antiquity, and is at present one of the important fruits of that country. It is grown in the same regions as the citrus fruits, or even farther north than the latter. T. Ikeda 2 points out that localities noted for unusually fine loquats always lie close to the sea. Numerous varieties have originated in Japan, the best of which have been introduced into the United States and a few other countries. While there are commercial orchards in many places, the total number of trees growing in Japan is said to be less than one million; hence it would seem that the industry there should be capable of extension, for the fruit is popular and the territory adapted to its production is large.
In northern India the loquat is a fruit-tree of considerable importance. A. C. Hartless, superintendent of the Government Botanical Gardens at Saharanpur, observes that certain localities have been much more favorable than others, and that the best results are obtained where the soil is sandy loam and where abundant water is supplied: and reports that "In the plains the loquat is in season in April, but in the colder climate of the hills it fruits in the autumn." Most of the trees in India are seedlings, but several grafted varieties have been distributed from Saharanpur.
1 Bull. 204, Bur. Plant Industry.
2 Fruit Culture in Japan.
Throughout a large part of the Mediterranean region the loquat is highly successful; it is said, in fact, to have become naturalized in several places. In southern France it is a common tree, but there are no large commercial plantations. In Italy and Sicily it is abundant. David Fairchild states it to be one of the principal fruits of the island of Malta, but the trees are seedlings and practically none of them worth propagating. L. Trabut says of the loquat in Algeria: "The Horticultural Society, the Botanical Service, and a certain number of amateurs have collaborated in producing superior varieties which are now propagated by grafting. The Botanical Service has introduced the best varieties obtainable in Japan, and public opinion is undergoing a change regarding this fruit. Formerly it was not esteemed." The tree is common in the gardens of Algiers, and during early spring the fruit is abundant in the markets.
Regarding its behavior in England, the Gardener's Chronicle (May 3, 1913), referring to it under an alternative name, says: "The Japanese Medlar is an old garden favorite, grown in this country for its handsome evergreen foliage, and in warmer regions for the sake of its edible fruits. Messrs. Sander have obtained from some source a variegated sport of it, which is likely to become a popular garden plant, the variegation being particularly pleasing, some of the leaves being more milk-white than green. It is not generally known that the Japanese Medlar is quite happy when grown under the shelter of a wall in the neighborhood of London; in other words, it is much hardier than is supposed."
According to Paul Hubert, the loquat is grown in Madagascar and in some islands of French Oceania. It is also cultivated in Indo-China. In Hawaii it is fairly common as a garden tree. In Australia its cultivation is limited to Queensland, but Albert H. Benson says that it can be grown in the more southerly coast districts, in the foothills of the Coast Range, and on the coast tablelands. It is not extensively cultivated in any of these regions. Grafted varieties are offered by nurserymen in Brisbane.
The loquat has become widely distributed throughout America, where its cultivation extends from California and Florida to Chile and Argentina. In Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, it is grown usually in mountain valleys and on plateaux at elevations of 3000 to 7000 feet. In those situations it succeeds well, and merits more attention than is now given it, especially the introduction of superior varieties, propagated by grafting.
California is probably the most favorable region for loquat culture in the United States. There are many areas in the southern end of the state which are admirably adapted to the production of choice fruit, and the commercial development of loquat culture in these localities is slowly but steadily progressing. Already there are several orchards ten to twenty acres in size, and many budded trees of superior varieties have been planted in dooryards and home gardens.
Throughout the Gulf states the tree grows well, but in many regions frosts interfere with the production of fruit. Several small orchards have been started in Florida, and while these have not been altogether successful in most instances, there are certain districts in the southern part of the state which seem well adapted to its culture. W. J. Krome has had signally good results with this fruit at Homestead. At Miami it has not done so well, probably because the soil is too light for it and not sufficiently moist.
While the name loquat is universally recognized among English-speaking peoples as the correct one for this fruit, it is sometimes called Japanese medlar and Japan-plum. The Spanish name is nispero del Japon, the Italian nespola giapponese; both of these mean Japanese medlar, and have been applied because of the resemblance of this fruit to the European medlar, Mespilus germanica. The French use this same term, as neflier du Japon; they also use the name bibace. Yule and Burnell say of the word loquat: "The name is that used in S. China, lu-kuh, pronounced at Canton lukwat, and meaning 'rush orange.' Elsewhere in China it is called pi-pa." This later suggests biwa, which is the common name in Japan.
The botanical name of the loquat is Eriobotrya japonica, Lindl., of which Photinia japonica, Gray, is a synonym. The latter name is retained by those who prefer not to separate the two genera, for the generic name Photinia is older than Eriobotrya.
Although most commonly eaten as a fresh fruit, the loquat can be utilized in several ways. For culinary purposes it is nearly as useful as its temperate-zone relative the apple; it may be stewed and served as a sauce, or it may be made into excellent jelly. Loquat pie, if made from fruit which is not fully ripe, can scarcely be distinguished from the renowned article made from cherries. The seeds are usually removed from the fruit before it is cooked, as otherwise they impart a bitter flavor to it.
The following analyses of two California varieties, made by M. E. Jaffa, have been published by I. J. Condit in his bulletin "The Loquat" 1 unquestionably the most thorough treatise on this fruit which has appeared up to the present:
1 Bull. 250, Calif. Agr. Exp. Sta.