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Spain: Lychee and longan in La Axarquía

La Axarquía is not a land like any other. Because of its special climatic characteristics, it is the only area of Europe, along with the Tropical Coast of Granada, where it is possible to produce subtropical crops of great commercial interest, including strawberries, avocados, mangoes, papayas, pitahaya, carambola, etc. Some of the many tropical fruits that can be grown in the province. A study carried out by the Institute of Horticultural and Mediterranean Horticulture (IHSM) La Mayora, a body dependent on the Centre for Scientific Research (CSIC) and the University of Málaga, has demonstrated the perfect acclimatization of two new species of tropical fruit trees, which makes La Axarquía the only place in Europe where their cultivation is possible.

We are talking about the lychee and longan; two species that are very close genetically speaking, grown mainly in southern China and northern Vietnam and which are very much in demand by the Asian population in Europe.

The fact is that they are two subtropical species that yield a large production, which makes their cultivation quite attractive to the growers from a commercial point of view, although they are also little known by Spanish consumers, even in Malaga.

The research carried out by La Mayora, which has its experimental station in Algarrobo, has made it possible to check which varieties are perfectly adapted to the area for commercial purposes. There are many lychee varieties, but perhaps the most interesting because of the quality of the fruit are the Salathiel, Bengal, Wai-Chee, Sah Keng and Kwai-May-Pink. The lychee harvest lasts from August to September.

In the 1990's, some producers dared to grow lychees for commercial purposes, but without any prior research. They used the Mauritius variety, which does not adapt well to the area and did not yield any fruit. That experience hurt the fruit's reputation.

The longan, however, had never been grown in the province, and compared to lychees, it has the advantage of having much more productive trees. Also, the fruit can remain in the tree without it losing its quality, and it also arrives in a time of the year (between November and February, and even March) when there are no other fruit productions with which it can compete in Europe, except for apples and pears.

Another advantage is that the longan is one of the fruits with the highest vitamin C content, and it doesn't need any type of chemical treatment in order to extend its shelf life. Also, the longan is more appreciated by the Asian population, as is also the case in Vietnam. The tree also has a higher production load than lychees.

The longan is also called Dragon's Eye because its fruit resembles an eyeball. It is very productive and its fruit, which is harvested between October and December, can remain unharvested without its quality being reduced. The varieties that are best acclimatized are the so-called Chom-Poo and Biew-Khiew, both of Thai origin.

For the scientist who has directed the studies on lychees and longan in La Mayora, Iñaki Hormaza, these are two crops of great interest, especially considering that the majority of producers are almost exclusively focused on just two crops: avocados of the Hass variety and mangoes of the Osteen variety.


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