How to Grow Japanese Plum or Loquat Trees (Eriobotrya Japonica)

An amazing winter blooming tree with delicious fruit and many names

Eriobotrya japonica flowers covered in snow in in the winter.

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Eriobotrya japonica is the perfect example of why it can help to use botanical names when discussing plants. It saves possible confusion when one is known by many common names. Most often referred to as the Loquat, Eriobotrya japonica is also known as the Japanese plum, or even the Chinese plum or pipa. It is a beautiful ornamental tree with stunning flowers and it is known for its winter hardiness, evergreen foliage and delicious fruit.

The tree goes by many names because it has traveled to many places. In New Orleans, there is another common name for Eriobotrya japonica and their fruit. The Italian immigrants are believed to be the origin of the tree in Louisiana and the word nespoli (which is the southern Italian name for thise fruit) was corrupted to be pronounced Misbelief.

Originally a native of China, Eriobotrya japonica, has been grown in cultivation in China and Japan for over 1,000 years. The seeds are thought to have been brought back to Japan from China by Japanese scholars or explorers around 619 -907 CE where they were used in ornamental gardens. From China and Japan, the adaptable tree has spread profusely around the world where it now has naturalized in almost 30 countries, including the United States.

How wide Eriobotrya japonica has spread is a testament to how hardy and adaptable it is. The commonality of the tree, condition-wise, is that it prefers temperate climates.

The beauty of this tree lies in the fact that it blooms in the fall. The blooms are strongly sweet-scented white flowers.

While this tree is common across many parts of North America, many won't get to enjoy a harvest. That is because it will not produce fruit in colder, more temperate local zones. In these instances, it is sold for ornamental horticulture only.

If the growing conditions do not drop below 28o Fahrenheit, the tree has the possibility of producing fruits. Loquat fruit is a mixture of tart and sweet and has a flavor profile between apricot, lemon and plum. The delicious fruit is often used in preserves, compotes, jellies, and pastries – if a person is able to resist eating them fresh.  

Botanical Name   Eriobotrya japonica
Common Name  Loquat, Japanese Plum, Medlar, Misbelief
Plant Type   Fruit Tree
Mature Size  10 to 25 ft. in ht. 10 to 25 ft. in width.
Sun Exposure  Fun sun to partial shade
Soil Type Fertile, loamy, well drained.
Soil pH  low acidity, neutral, low alkalinity
Bloom Time  Late Fall, Early Winter
Flower Color  White, Blush
Hardiness Zones  8-10, USA
Native Area   China and Japan
Toxicity  Fruit - no, Seed - yes

Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica) Care

When looking to buy E. japonica for fruiting it is advised to buy a grafted seedling rather than growing it from seed. A seedling that was grown from seed will most likely not produce fruit for at least ten years. Grafted plant material will take a much shorter time - perhaps as little as two to three years. This is often the case for all fruit-bearing trees. Trees being used solely for ornamental horticulture can be selected from those grown from seed.

Planting the tree is done as you would do for any other tree. If in a zone where the temperature is borderline, locating in an area that could create a microclimate is a good idea. You could look for an area with lots of concrete or a rock feature that will absorb daytime heat and release that heat at night. Locating near a wall will also help to produce and retain heat while acting as a windscreen.

Light

Producing the most fruit and flower in full sun, E. japonica will also tolerate partial shade but it will be less productive.

Soil

The Japanese Plum prefers a well-draining loamy soil that does not have high salinity or high acidity.

Water

E. japonica is drought-tolerant but will be more productive when it gets regular water.

Temperature and Humidity

The recommended zones for loquat trees are USDA 8-10, but it is known for its winter hardiness and late flowering blooms. It is not uncommon to see photographs of the tree in bloom with snow-covered flowers

One note to remember is that the tree does not fruit in temperatures lower than 28oF, though there are some cultivars that bend that rule.

Fertilizer

Fertilizer is not normally needed, but an application of  5-5-5 fertilizer four times over the growing season will help produce more fruit.

Is Eriobotrya japonica Toxic?

The edible fruit of this tree is delicious. You do, however, need to be cautious of the seeds. Just like the seed of an apple and apricot, those of the loquat are slightly toxic. If ingested in very large quantities, they could cause problems for people or pets.

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