Longan or Dragon Eyes.
The Longan (Dimocarpus longan) comes from India, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. This evergreen tree is very similar to the well known fruiting tree, Lychee, which is in the same family, as well as the Soap Tree.
The Longan is a dense, bushy tree which can, over time, grow to twenty metres high in its natural environment. In our conditions it will always remain a relatively small tree. It is very variable in shape from low spreading to tall and upright.
Leaves are a shiny dark green with the new flushes reddish-brown.
Reasonably free draining soils are necessary and they appreciate some water over drought times although when established they are dry tolerant.
Although similar to Lychee, the Longan is a tougher tree and a lot less demanding as to soil and temperatures. Although coming from tropical areas they grow in upland areas and cool winter periods are needed for initiation of flower buds.
The small, inconspicuous, yellow-brown flowers are held on multi-branched racemes up to 40cm long. These appear from new growth in mid-summer and occasionally in spring and the fruit ripen five to seven months later depending on variety.
The fruit are similar to a Lychee, though usually a bit smaller. There is a thin brittle yellow-tan skin and the flesh on mine is a clear light white through which the dark seed can be seen, which gives rise to the common name ‘Dragon Eye”.
The flesh is slightly crisp and succulent but not very sweet and it was not until I researched this article that I found out that the flavour decreases if the fruit is left on the tree after maturity is reached. I have been leaving them on in the mistaken belief that they would gain in flavour the longer they were on the tree. I had also found that the seeds start germinating on the tree so one could open a fruit and find roots coiling around inside it. Now I pick them early and the flavour is much better.
I know of only a few trees fruiting in New Zealand and but even for ornamental value they should be grown more often.
The crushed seeds of the Longan can be used as an alternative for soap.
There are about five species in the genus Dimocarpus with one being native to Australia.