Native to China and known botanically as Litchi chinensis, this is a round-topped tree with smooth, gray bark. Grows slowly to 2040 feet tall and wide. Leaves consist of three to nine leathery, 3- to 6 inches-long, oval, pointed leaflets that emerge coppery red, then turn dark green.
Inconspicuous flowers in late spring give rise to tasty, walnut-size fruit (variously known as lychees, litchis, or litchi nuts); it is ripe when the leathery rind covering it turns red (in summer and fall). The translucent, white flesh surrounding the central pit is sweet, juicy, and delicious. The fruit must ripen fully on the tree; after harvest, it can be frozen, dried, or stored fresh for up to 5 weeks in the refrigerator (if stored at room temperature, it will deteriorate within 3 days). The most widely grown selections are 'Brewster' (large fruit and seeds, midseason) and 'Mauritius' (medium-size fruit, small seeds, early), although specialty nurseries offer many others.
Best grown in a frost-free site, although mature trees may withstand temperatures as low as 25F for several hours. Provide acid, well-drained soil containing plenty of organic matter; mulch thoroughly with pine straw or ground bark after planting. Keep soil constantly moist during periods of active growth. Young trees need little fertilizer, but you should apply chelated iron and garden sulfur if planting in alkaline soil. Lychees do not tolerate salt spray.