This section is from the book "Manual Of Tropical And Subtropical Fruits", by Wilson Popenoe. Also available from Amazon: Manual Of Tropical And Subtropical Fruits.
Seedling litchis have been known to bear fruit at five years of age. It is commonly held that they should bear when seven to nine years old. In some instances, however, trees twenty years old have failed to produce fruit. Higgins remarks, "Wide variability in the age of coming into bearing has been noted with seedlings of other tropical fruits, especially the avocado, but the litchi appears most extreme in this respect."
Layered plants tend to bear when very young. Sometimes they will flower a year after planting, and mature a few fruits when two years old, but three to five years is the age at which they normally come into bearing.
The litchi is famed as a long-lived tree. An early Chinese account (not necessarily to be credited) mentions one which was cut down when it was 800 years old. Bonavia considered that litchis should remain in profitable bearing for a century at least. Mature trees have been found in Hawaii to yield 200 to 300 pounds of fruit yearly, and crops of 1000 pounds have been reported. Under good cultural conditions, the tree can be expected to produce a crop every year. Again quoting Bonavia, it may be said that the tree "bears annually an abundant crop of fine, well-flavored and aromatic fruits, which can readily be sent to distant markets. Instead of being planted by ones or twos, it should be planted by the thousand."
In picking the fruit, entire clusters are usually broken off, with several inches of stem attached. If the individual fruits are pulled off the stems, they are said not to keep well. After they are picked the fruits soon lose their attractive red color, but they can be kept for two or three weeks without deteriorating in flavor. The Chinese sometimes sprinkle them with a salt solution and pack them in joints of bamboo for shipment to distant markets. At the Hawaii Experiment Station it was found that "refrigeration, where it is available, furnishes the best means of preserving the litchi for a limited period in its natural state. . . . There is no doubt that refrigeration will provide a very satisfactory method for placing upon American markets the litchi crop grown in Florida, California, Hawaii, Porto Rico, or Cuba."
The season of ripening in southern China is from May to July. In northern India it is slightly earlier. In Honolulu fresh litchis sell for 50 to 75 cents a pound.