Characteristics of Loquat / Biwa (Eriobotrya japonica) Trees in the Wild

Eriobotrya japonica
The loquat grows as a shrub or evergreen tree, which is planted for its fruit and is also planted as an ornamental tree for gardens and yards.

In China, the loquat is known as a ‘pipe’ (枇杷) and because of its golden color, it symbolizes gold and wealth. Often one in a bowl or combination of fruits and vegetables (such as chives, artemisia leaves, pomegranate, kumquat, etc.) to symbolize the wish of good luck or ‘Five Prosperity’ or wurui (五 瑞).

Currently, the loquat tree has naturalized in Georgia, Armenia, Afghanistan, Australia, Azerbaijan, Bermuda, Chile, Kenya, India, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, Mediterranean, Pakistan, New Zealand, Réunion, Tonga, Central America, Mexico, America South and in parts of the United States (Hawaii, California, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina).


Immigrants from China are thought to have brought loquat tree seeds to Hawaii and California from centuries ago. Loquat has also been cultivated in Japan for about 1,000, presumably the fruit and seeds were brought from China to Japan by many Japanese scholars who visited and studied in China during the Tang Dynasty.

The first European record of this species was probably set in the 16th century by Michał Boym. He describes the loquat in Flora sinensis, the first European natural history book on China. The common name for this fruit comes from the Portuguese nêspera “José Pedro Machado, Dicionário Etimológico da Língua Portuguesa, 1967” (from the modified nespilus, originally mespilus, which refers to the medlar). Since the first Portuguese contacts with Japan and China date also from the 16th century, it is possible that some were brought back to Europe, as was possibly the case with other species such as the hachiya persimmon variety.

Eriobotrya japonica was again described in Europe by Carl Peter Thunberg, as Mespilus japonica in 1780, and was transferred to the genus Eriobotrya (from Greek εριο “wool” and βοτρυών “cluster”) by John Lindley, who published this change in 1821.

The most common variety in Portugal is the late-ripening Tanaka. Loquats are popular as garden and backyard trees but are not grown commercially.

In northern Portugal, the loquat tree is called ‘magnório or magnólio’, possibly related to the French botanist Pierre Magnol.

In Spain, loquats are also called ‘nísperos’ and are grown commercially. Spain is the second-largest producer of loquats in the world, after China, by producing 41,000 tons of loquats per year.


Characteristics of Loquat Leaf

Eriobotrya japonica Leaf
Source: Kuznetsov

The leaves are simple, 10-25 cm long, dark green, slightly stiff, and coarse in texture.


Characteristics of Loquat Flower

Eriobotrya japonica Flower

Loquats appear in fall or early winter. The flowers are 2 cm in diameter, white in color, with five petals, and produce 3-10 stiff panicles. The flowers have a sweet and intoxicating aroma that can be smelled from a distance.


Characteristics of Loquat Fruit

Eriobotrya japonica Fruit

Loquats grow in groups, oval or round in shape, 3-5cm long, with smooth skin, yellow or orange in color, and sometimes rosy red. The pulp is white, yellow, or orange and sweet or sour (depending on cultivar).

The fruit ripens any time from early spring to early summer.


Characteristics of Loquat Tree

Eriobotrya japonica Tree

The loquat tree can grow as a medium-sized tree with a round crown, short trunk, and young, hairy twigs. The tree can grow to 8-9 meters tall but is often found smaller, around 3-4 meters.

Loquat trees can only live in USDA zones 8 and above, and will only flower where winter temperatures do not drop below 30 °F (−1 °C). In such areas, the tree can flower in autumn and the fruits ripen in late winter.

The height of the area is also an important factor to consider. Loquat trees grow naturally from an altitude of 800-2,200 m asl. However, the exact altitude will vary depending on the temperature or how close it is to the equator.


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