The Japanese Plum Loquat Tree

Eriobotrya japonica

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The Japanese plum or loquat tree is a handsome, small evergreen landscape ornament that also happens to produce a tasty fruit. Eriobotrya japonica can be grown as a shrub with foliage right to the ground or limbed up into a tree you can walk or drive a car under.

The shrub form is the best way to go if you are growing it for the fruit.

Most of the trees here in Florida are not pruned once the basic shape has been established. They grow to a height of 10-20 feet--taller in shade, shorter in sun.

The foliage of the Japanese plum tree is coarse and somewhat messy if it drops onto a manicured lawn. Even when the trees are planted in beds, I think this can be an occasional problem due to the size (6-10 inches long) of the leaves. They do not just melt away like some of the small oak leaves.

While the dark green, toothed leaves are attached to the tree, they are very attractive. This is one of the first trees to bloom here in the spring.

Loquat flowers.

The small white flowers are slightly fragrant.

Fuzzy green 2 inch ovals follow and ripen to a rich orange color.

Loquat fruit is highly perishable. You will never see it in a market. You have to grow your own (or have a generous neighbor) to get it.

Before it is completely ripe, it is pretty tart. All the sugar develops during the final day or two of ripening. The fruit doesn't all ripen at once. You can tell when a fruit is ready to pick by a subtle color change that takes place. The color will deepen slightly.

I pick them by cutting the portion of the panicle bearing ripe fruit off. This saves a great deal of time over trying to pick them one-by-one and it doesn't damage the tree.

Loquat tree bearing fruit.

The common name of the loquat tree is Japanese plum though I can't imagine why. The fruit is much smaller than any plum I've ever eaten. In fact it's mostly seed!

There's a big brown seed (or sometimes 2) in the middle surrounded by a bit of sweet flesh and encased in a tough, fuzzy skin.

You eat it by peeling away the skin and sucking the flesh off the seeds.

Discard the seeds and skin.

Eriobotrya japonica fruit ripening on the tree.
Loquat tree fruit crop.

The little bit of flesh on this fruit tastes more like an apricot than a plum. Not that I mean to suggest that it tastes like an apricot.

It doesn't.

I can't think of anything it's really similar too. It has a taste all its own. This is what makes it worth eating when it offers so little to eat.

One of my neighbors, after coming over to taste one, scowled and said, "There's not much eating there".

Growing a Loquat Tree

Small loquat tree

Treating Fire Blight in Loquats:

Prune the burnt stems off by cutting into the healthy wood behind them. Bag the prunings.

This disease can be spread by the loppers so you will need to disinfect the blades by dipping them into a bleach and water solution between cuts.

Carry a bucket half full of water mixed with two caps full of bleach into the garden with you.

Do not knock this over or pour it out onto any plant you don't want to kill. Bleach is toxic to plants.

This is the lowest maintenance fruit tree you will ever grow.

It does not want much attention. There is no spraying, no pruning after the first couple of years and you don't even have to harvest the fruit. Many people who grow this tree as an ornamental don't even realize that the fruit is edible.

A lady living across the street from me only asked me about it after she noticed her little boys picking it up off the ground and eating it!

Unlike the leaves, any fruit that falls to the ground just kind of disappears as long as it isn't falling onto pavement.

A loquat tree needs to be sited in full sun. This will give you more fruit and a healthier tree.

The one disease loquat is susceptible to is fire blight.

Fire blight is caused by poor light conditions, too much nitrogen, or too much water. Feed the tree no more than twice per season and only water it during dry weather once it's established.

If entire limbs turn black overnight, that's fire blight.

Propagating Eriobotrya japonica

You can plant the seeds, if you want to. An easier way is to just look for seedlings underneath a mature loquat tree. That's what another of my neighbors did when she found out I wanted one.

She spied two seedlings under her mature Japanese plum tree, pulled them up and thrust them at me. I planted them both in the same hole not expecting both to survive. They were only 8 or 10 inches tall.

They did survive and five years later came into bearing. Despite all the warnings I read about loquat seedlings not bearing good fruit, my loquat tree bears fruit that tastes just like the fruit from the tree it came from.

The nurseries carry grafted loquats if you are not as inclined to recklessness as I am.

During the 5 years before my tree began to bear, this same neighbor shared her fruit with me each year. Tiny and I had a dog we had rescued from the pound named Coco at the time. I made the grave error of feeding her a loquat fruit once.

She liked it.

So much so that she remembered it from year to year. Whenever I would pick a bunch off of Shirley's tree, Coco would try to steal it from me as I was crossing the yard to go back into the house.

We made quite a sight. Me holding the loquats as high as my short arms would allow and Coco leaping into the air and swatting at the bunch.

Shirley probably just gave me the fruit in exchange for the entertainment!

Discover an easy way to grow your own food and save!

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Your plant guides,

Selina and Tiny