Emperor Lychee Grow Guide

The Emperor Lychee truly stands out for its large fruit size, late harvest season, and compact growth habit.

Honestly, Emperor would be a distinctive add to any lychee collection. That is because a perfectly ripened fruit is so good that it’s definitely fit for an Emperor 😃

That said, this grow guide will cover everything that you need to know about Emperor Lychee:

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Table of Contents

Emperor Lychee Tree Growth Habit & Fruit Production

The Emperor Lychee is considered a medium-sized fruit tree. Emperor Lychees have a low vigor and spreading growth habit that produces a dense, very compact and rounded canopy.

Speaking of the tree canopy, an interesting tidbit about Emperor Lychee Trees is their leaf size. More specifically, Emperor tends to have much smaller leaves relative to other cultivars such as Brewster, Sweetheart and Mauritius.

As a result, Emperor Lychee Trees can realistically be kept between 10 – 20 feet with annual pruning.

In fact, out of all the mainstream lychee cultivars available, I believe that Emperor is the only cultivar of Lychee that can realistically be grown in a container over the long-term. They are very slow growers.

An Emperor Lychee Tree Flowering
Image Credit: Off Grid Hawaii

Let’s now talk fruit production.

For those new to growing lychees, lychee tree’s fruit production can vary wildly from year to year (that’s partially why they are so expensive!). So while it’s true that one can reasonably expect fruit every year, the overall yield is very cyclical i.e. good year, bad year, good year, bad year.

Emperor Lychee’s fruit production consistently ranges from irregular to very irregular. In other words, one can expect an Emperor Lychee Tree to produce reasonably well (have a ‘good year’) every 2 – 3 years.

And while Emperor Lychee Trees definitely don’t produce enough fruit on a commercial scale, they can provide a good amount of fruit for a homeowner.

A mature and ripe cluster of Emperor Lychee hanging on the tree
Image Credit: Picone Exotics

Finally, similar to Mauritius, Kaimana, Sweetheart and Hak Ip, Emperor is considered a ‘Mountain Type’ lychee.

In a nutshell, ‘Mountain Type’ lychee trees have:

  • Improved cold tolerance
  • Improved drought resistance
  • Smaller canopies (more dwarfish)
  • Fruit with a rougher skin texture
A cluster of mature but not ripe Emperor Lychees on the tree
Image Credit: Serendib Farms

Emperor Lychee Flavor Profile

The Emperor Lychee is one of the largest lychees available, generally weighing around 40 – 60 grams per fruit. For comparison, most other lychee cultivars typically weigh around 15 – 25 grams per fruit.

And to really drive home the fruit’s size, the average weight of a golf ball is approximately ~45 grams. In other words, Emperor Lychees can literally be larger than golf balls! 🤯

Between the fruit’s large size and high probability of developing chicken tongue seeds, Emperor Lychees have a very desirable flesh-to-seed ratio.

Side Note: A “chicken tongue” seed in lychees refers to an underdeveloped or partially formed seed that is small, thin, and often shriveled, resembling a chicken’s tongue, which leaves more edible fruit flesh.

Texture-wise, the Emperor is commendable, delivering a satisfying bite.

From a flavor perspective, the Emperor Lychee, when perfectly harvested and ripened, is a delight for the taste buds, offering a super sweet flavor that can rival popular varieties like Sweetheart and Hak Ip.

Relative to other lychees, I believe that Emperor’s flavor combines elements of both the Brewster and Mauritius cultivars, featuring a distinctive sweetness without the tartness typical of Mauritius.

Sweetheart, on the other hand, is significantly sweeter than Emperor and also ripens earlier along with Mauritius, both of which have a more traditional lychee profile (in my opinion).

However, Emperor’s fruit quality does tend to be a bit inconsistent.

If you pick the fruit even a tad early, the flavor can shift dramatically. Early-picked Emperors are much less sweet, quite tart, and sometimes even bordering on bland creating an overall mediocre experience. In these instances, I’d much rather have a Brewster, which offers a more consistently enjoyable taste.

A cross section of an Emperor Lychee showing the translucent flesh and small seed
Image Credit: Picone Exotics

Emperor Lychee Season (And When To Pick)

Emperor Lychees are considered a late-season fruit, typically harvested from the end of June to the first week of July. Because the season is so short, you’ll want to make sure you time your harvest just right to enjoy these delicious gems!

A small cluster of mature and ripe Emperor Lychees on the tree

In terms of what to look for to determine whether the fruit is ready to be picked, I personally like to look for plump fruit that still has a tiny bit of yellow on the peel right before it reaches the fully red stage.

Yellow/Green fruit is not mature and will lack the sweetness that Emperor Lychees are capable of. By the same token, if the fruit turns a purplish color (over ripe) then the fruit will likely be bland.

Similar to avocados, I like to harvest one or two small clusters at a time and taste the fruit. If the fruit doesn’t taste as it should, then I’ll give the rest of the fruit some more time to ripen properly on the tree.

When harvesting, cut the main stem bearing the fruit clusters several inches behind the clusters. You can either detach the fruit from the clusters before storage or leave them on.

A freshly harvested cluster of mature and ripe Emperor Lychees
Image Credit: Picone Exotics

Emperor Lychee Disease Resistance

The main disease that impacts lychee fruit production is anthracnose. According to the University of Florida, Emperor Lychee’s susceptibility rating to anthracnose is still ‘under evaluation.’

A mature and almost ripe cluster of Emperor Lychees on the tree
Image Credit: Picone Exotics

That being said, I would generally avoid planting lychees in areas with very humid conditions.

Additionally, practices such as ensuring good air circulation around the tree via proper pruning and avoiding overhead watering can reduce the risk of an anthracnose infection.

A pile of freshly harvested Emperor Lychees
Image Credit: Picone Exotics

Emperor Lychee Tree for Sale

If you are unable to find an Emperor Lychee Tree at a local nursery, they are available for sale on FastGrowingTrees.com, an online nursery that provides a wide selection of tropical trees, shrubs and plants. 

Not only does FastGrowingTrees ship quickly, but they also offer an optional 1 Year Warranty (which is always nice).

Conclusion

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If you have any questions regarding anything mentioned in this grow guide, please comment them below! This way, others can also benefit from the answer to the same question. For any other questions or growing tips that you think may be helpful, feel free to use the contact form and drop me a line.

Thank you for reading! 🙂

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Matthew Rowlings

I have an Associates Degree in Biology from the University of Florida and am also an active Florida Master Gardener. I am located in Central Florida (Zone 10A) and have 6+ years of experience with growing 20+ types of tropical trees. You can learn more about me and why I started Tropical Tree Guide on my about page.

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