October 2, 2010

1 - Exotic loquat fruit may, perhaps, be grown in protected areas of Southern New Mexico.

Yard and Garden - October 2, 2010


What is this plant growing at the house I bought in Alamogordo? The leaves are long and narrow, up to 10 inches wide and only about 3 inches wide. The leaves are strongly corrugated with the veins sunk lower, dark green on top, but the bottom of each leaf is coated with brown fuzz. The flowers are white and very fragrant. Last winter it had some golf ball sized orange fruit that smelled tasty, but had large seeds. Are these fruit edible? The plant is very pretty and I hope I can eat the fruit.


The plant you are describing (and in the pictures you sent) is called "loquat". Its scientific name is Eriobotrya japonica and as the name suggests is from the Orient. It is a popular plant in Japan, but may have originated in China. The fruit is edible and very tasty. It can be used to make jams, eaten fresh, and according to some sources be used to make a light wine. The seeds are bitter and contain a poisonous element called cyanogenic glycoside. If eaten, stomach acids release cyanide gas. So, do not eat the seeds, only the sweet, tasty flesh of the fruits.

The whitish flowers are fragrant from quite a distance and along with the exotic beauty of the plant make this a nice ornamental, even in areas where the fruit never forms. It needs a protected location for fruit production because it flowers in the fall and the fruit matures in the winter, if it does not freeze. The plant can tolerate freezing temperatures to about 12 degrees, but the fruit will be injured and drop from the plant if exposed to temperatures in the mid-twenties. In protected microclimates in Southern New Mexico you may succeed in having your plant produce fruit and have a chance to enjoy the flavor of the fruit. In other parts of New Mexico with proper protection from winter temperatures the evergreen tree may survive and produce the enjoyable fragrant flowers, but will not set fruit to eat.

This is not a common plant in New Mexico landscapes and because of its lack of winter hardiness is not likely to be common. Gardeners who are able to grow the loquat have the right to brag. Those who can produce the fruit have even greater bragging rights and the chance to make an interesting jam.

Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email: desertblooms@nmsu.edu, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


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