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Natural Awakenings Naples and Fort Myers

Longan: The Dragon Eyes Tree: Its Delectable Fruit Is Far from Fearsome

Aug 01, 2011 08:34AM ● By Beth Davis

Frank DeNardis in front of his longan tree.

One of the most rewarding species to grow in Southwest Florida, the longan tree is also known as “dragon eyes,” because its fruit resembles an eyeball when shelled. The longan is related to the popular lychee, and though its flavorful fruit is sometimes considered inferior to that of its cousin, many Southwest Floridians would disagree. Master Gardener Frank DeNardis is among them.

DeNardis has two large longan trees growing on his property in North Naples, which also doubles as a wholesale nursery, with more than 250 organically grown tropical fruit trees. He says he not only prefers the longan for its taste, but also for the bounty of fruit it produces and its undemanding ease of care.

“The flavor is excellent, and the tree itself is more forgiving of error than the lychee,” he explains. “The longan is very hardy, drought tolerant and productive.” DeNardis says a mature tree can yield between 50 and 500 pounds of fruit yearly.

The longan is also an attractive tree, a symmetrical evergreen with dense, dark green foliage that can grow 30 to 45 feet high in South Florida. Its branched clusters of small, pale yellow flowers typically bloom from late February through April.

Spherical to egg-shaped, the longan’s clustered fruit is slightly smaller than the lychee’s, and its thin, leathery peel is also smoother. As the fruit matures, the rind becomes somewhat brittle, changing color from green to tan or light brown. The pulp—sweet, musky and mildly aromatic—is fleshy and translucent and surrounds a single dark brown seed.

According to DeNardis, longan fruits mature five or six months after the tree flowers, with harvest occurring from mid-summer to early fall. Fruit is harvested by hand, with pruning shears or a pole with a cutter that holds the entire cluster, but should not be picked too soon or it won’t continue to ripen.

Harvested fruit needs to be placed in the shade immediately, and then cooled as soon as possible. DeNardis says longans have a relatively short shelf life when stored at room temperature. Unpeeled fruit can be placed in plastic bags and kept in the refrigerator for five to seven days, or it can be frozen, canned or dried within its rind to form a “longan nut,” or without the rind to create a “longan raisin.”

Because longans grow quickly and are quite large at maturity, DeNardis suggests planting them at least 22 to 25 feet away from other trees and structures; if crowded, they may not grow properly or produce as much fruit. Planting can be done at any time, as long as the tree is watered regularly; otherwise, the best time to plant is during late spring or early summer.

Sweet and memorably flavored, longan fruit is also a nutritious snack. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database, the fruit is low in calories, cholesterol and sodium and is a good source of potassium and vitamin C. Little wonder then, that the handsome tree bearing these succulent dragon eyes is becoming a popular landscape choice in Southwest Florida.

For more information or to make an appointment to visit Frank DeNardis’ nursery, located at 108 Viking Way, in Palm River Estates, in Naples, call 239-597-8359.

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