Called Dragon Eyes because of their colour, these round yellow-brown skinned fruits are much appreciated by the Chinese. Cultivated for over 1,000 years, Longan crops later in the summer than its more famous relative, the Lychee. Remove the thin shell like skin and pop the translucent white fruit into your mouth for a real taste treat.
It’s said that Longans are an acquired taste. I acquired the taste after my first fresh fruit. The distinctive musky flavour is quite unlike the Lychee. Sweet juicy aromatic Longans are one of the more exciting fruits of the future for Perth gardens. I see an excellent commercial opportunity also. The demand for Longans from Australia’s Asian population far exceeds supply, even for poorer quality seedling fruits.
Dragon’s Eyes are less demanding in their climatic and soil requirements than Lychees. Able to withstand temperatures of -4C when mature, they actually require a chilling period to achieve a fruit set. A bushy tree to around 5 or 6 metres high with a similar spread, Longan is a heavy producer.
Because of late summer cropping there is a tendency to produce alight crop every second year while the tree builds up foliage and carbohydrates for the heavy crop the following year.
How to grow Longans
Along with many other sup-tropical trees, Longans like sunny north facing locations, rich, well drained soil and wind protection. In Thailand, trees are gradually mounded up with soil to an eventual height of 2 metres to protect the tree from being pushed over by very strong winds. Longans need heavy irrigation from September to December while the fruits are filling out. Mulching the soil with organic material is very beneficial, it provides insulation from rapid changes in temperature and moisture levels.
There has been a flood of varieties coming to Australia from China, Taiwan, Thailand, Florida and Hawaii. Grafted plants derived from these tried and tested varieties will produce earlier and the quality of the fruit is higher. While grafts are more costly than seedlings, the early extra investment pays off handsomely. Grafts should produce in their 3rd or 4th year – seedlings can take 8 to 10 years. It is too early to make recommendations about specific named varieties. Growing trials will need to supply information about local performance. So I can only suggest choosing a graft or two if you have space and grow your own trial.
A delicious fruit to eat fresh, Longan, according to some, is improved by cooking. It can be bottled and dried. Canned Longans are available and I believe taste better than tinned Lychee. To get you into the Dragon Eye Habit, buy a can of Longans and try this unusual salad:
Dragon Eye Salad (for 6 servings)
1 Large can of Longans – drained, ¾ cup cottage cheese, 1/3 to ½ mayonnaise, 1/3 cup Pecan Kernels.
Fill cavities of Longans with Cottage Cheese. Chill and place on lettuce leaves. Garnish with mayonnaise and Pecans.