Not Even Kissing Cousins
Are Loquats (Eriobotrya japonica) related to Kumquats (Fortunella spp.)? The answer is no, they are not even kissing cousins. Both are native to China, but the Loquat is indigenous to southeastern China and possibly southern Japan. The loquat has been cultivated in Japan for over 1,000 years.
The Loquat was first introduced in the Western World by a botanist named Engelbert Kaempfer in the year 1690. It was planted in Paris in 1784 and in England in 1787. It spread from there all over the world.
The Loquat can reach a height of 20 to 30 feet. The evergreen leaves are 5 to 12 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide. The flowers have a very sweet fragrance, they are white, with 5 petals. In the 1950's, the flowers attracted the interest of the perfume industry in France and Spain and some experimental work was done in extraction of the essential oil from the flowers and leaves. The product was appealing but the yield was very small.
The fruits are born in clusters of 4 to 30. They can be oval, round or pear-shaped, 1 to 2 inches long. They closely resemble an apricot in size and color. The flesh is pale yellow and has a sweet-tart, cherry-like flavor. There may be 1 to 10 seeds, but usually only 3-5.
Once the tree is established, it can tolerate temperatures as low as 12 degrees. The flower bud can be killed at 19 degrees, the mature flower at 26 degrees. This is important to know because Loquats are one of the first fruits to ripen in the Spring. They bloom in the Fall, needing 90 days from flower opening to reach maturity. Basically it takes all winter to form the fruit.
The tree grows well in a variety of soils of moderate fertility, but needs good drainage.
You can grow a Loquat from seed, although there is no guarantee that your fruit will taste good. Cuttings and grafting are the best methods of propagation. Started this way, you should see fruit within 5 years. There are some cultivars that can produce 100 pounds of fruit per tree at 5 years of age. When those trees reach 15 to 20 years, they can produce in excess of 300 pounds of fruit. Loquat fruit generally will keep for 10 days at room temperature, and for about 60 days in cool storage. Of about 800 varieties of Loquats, roughly 46 are planted for edible fruit.
There are many ways to use the Loquat fruit. Some people prepare spiced Loquats (with cloves, cinnamon, lemon and vinegar) in glass jars. The fruit can be used to make jams and pie filling or just peeled, seeded and eaten fresh. The fruits are high in vitamin A, dietary fiber, vitamins B6, B17, C, and potassium. So why not go ahead and add one to your garden?