April is loquat season in North Florida, and everywhere you look, golden yellow-orange clumps of these fruits are ripening around here. Lots of people use this evergreen Asian tree in landscaping, so there’s plenty of free fruit available. The loquat trees used in landscaping have generally not been selected for fruit characteristics, so quality is variable: occasionally a tree may have small and/or sour fruit, but on most trees the fruits are pretty good, and on some trees they are excellent.
There are also a number of named-variety loquat cultivars that have been selected for fruit quality, and they generally make larger, sweeter fruit. Good named varieties include ‘Novak’, ‘Christmas’, ‘Shambala’, ‘SES2’, ‘Champagne’, and ‘Tori’. Well-grown, fully matured and ripened fruits of these types are quite comparable to a good sweet peach, with some people detecting hints of cherry or mango flavor.
Another traditional name for loquat in Florida is “Japanese Plum”. When I first moved to Florida, I had a number of potted fruit trees of various types dangling fruits. A group of kids from the neighborhood were fascinated by this, and they’d come around regularly to check out the developing fruits. With pretty much every species of fruit, they’d point to it and ask, “Is that a Japanese plum?” I’d never heard that name before, and I had no idea what they were talking about, till I realized that Japanese plum was another term for loquat. These kids had already developed a fond relationship with this fruit in their early, formative years.
My neighbor Lyle has a small planting of grafted “Shambala” loquat trees that are ripening lots of fruit, that’s what’s in these pictures. He is selling them at the downtown Gainesville Farmers Market, Wednesdays 4-7pm.
Recently I posted some loquat pictures to Instagram, and several people reported that loquats in their areas (Southern California, Central Mexico, Australia, and Hawaii) have thick, leathery skins that need to be peeled before eating. I have never encountered that – every loquat I’ve ever eaten has had a thin, delicate skin, and I eat them skin and all. I have no idea if it’s some loquat varieties which have thick leathery skins, or if that characteristic develops in certain climate regions. If you have any experience with this trait, please leave a comment about whether loquats in your area have thin or thick skins.
As loquats ripen, they turn from green to yellow, then to a yellow-orange. I find that at the yellow stage, they’re still kind of tart. The best flavor occurs (at least to my taste) when they reach the yellow-orange stage, when they have a rich, sweet, peachy taste and texture.