Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the June 29, 2007 Newsletter issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve, QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

About a month ago pickup trucks began appearing parked along roads with men beside them selling bags of something halfway looking like dry, red strawberries. They were litchi fruits, litchi sometimes written as lychee, leechee, lichi and other ways. These roadside litchis came from "La Huasteca," the Huastec-Indian lowlands across the Sierra Madres to the east, in San Luis Potosí state.

The first time I tried to eat a litchi, immediately I discovered two things about them. First, the red skin is so tough that if you bite the fruit the fruit tends to explode like a bitten egg. Second, inside there's a big, hard seed. You eat a litchi by removing the tough skin rather easily with your fingers, and then you can bite into the white flesh, avoiding the seed. You can see a pretty bowl of litchis filled partly with whole, red fruits, partly with white, seed-bearing flesh, and partly with hard, black, shiny seeds at http://www.montosogardens.com/brewster_lychee_fruit_small1.jpg.

The litchi's white flesh tastes pretty good, having a wet, slippery texture like grapes, and it separates easily from the seeds, which are mildly toxic, I read.

The fellow who raises fighting roosters next to Reserve Headquarters has a litchi tree with branches accessible from the sidewalk. When litchis were first being sold from trucks along the road the rooster-farm tree's fruits were still immature so I figured our local litchi season would come along later, and I resolved to put off buying a bag until they appeared in the local market.

However, eventually the roadside vendors vanished but litchis never did appear in the local market, not even when the rooster fellow's tree matured and its fruits started disappearing. Finally someone told me that litchis aren't sold in the market, just along roads.

So, I missed litchi season, but I did manage to take a picture of a fruit on the rooster tree, next to a stem recently plucked by somebody else. The picture is below:


Litchi trees, LITCHI CHINENSIS, are from China. One reason the English name is written so many ways is that Litchi is transliterated from its Chinese name. The species is a member of the Soapberry Family, the Sapindaceae.