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Eriobotrya japonica

Photo: Dr. Robert Polomski

Gold Nuggets and Champagne – The Lovely Loquat

I have always been enamored with shrubs and trees that bloom during the fall months, partly for the pollinators in search of sustenance during this season, but mostly for me who can’t accept the impending arrival of winter.

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) is an evergreen shrub or small tree that can grow 15 to 30 ft. tall in sun or shade. It blooms in late October and November. The gorgeous spikes of creamy-white flowers exude a pleasing fragrance that wafts in the cool air. As a backdrop to these off-season flowers its coarsely textured leaves impart a markedly tropical effect. The thick 6 to 9-inch (or sometimes 12-inch) long leaves sport a wrinkled lustrous surface and wooly grayish-brown hairs on the undersides. Even the bark is beautiful year-round as it sheds puzzle-like pieces to reveal a colorful patchwork pattern of grays and browns.

Although the flowers and fruit can be injured by low wintertime temperatures (the tree is hardy to about 7 degrees F), it’s a risk I’m willing to take. I look forward to the round- to pear-shaped yellow to orange fruits that ripen in the spring. Loquats are about the size of plums and have white to yellow flesh and one or more large seeds.

If they were grown from seed, the flavor will be unpredictable. The most delicious loquats are grafted cultivars whose fruits are juicy, sweet and tangy. If you’re not fond of surprises and delectable fruit is at the top of your list, consider growing named, grafted cultivars such as ‘Big Jim,’ ‘Champagne,’ ‘Gold Nugget,’ ‘Premiere,’ and ‘Thales.’

Loquats are susceptible to fire-blight, a bacterial disease that infects flowers in the fall or young, succulent shoots in the spring. You can manage this disease by promptly removing and discarding the diseased parts. Cold, however, is its greatest nemesis. Folks north of interstate 85 in the Carolinas may find it easier to find a warm-region friend who’d be willing to share their loquats with you.