Welcome to austinagrodolce … My family and I garden with more intention and enthusiasm than allocated budget or overall design plan. It shows. Wildlife populations don't seem to notice our lack of cohesive design, they just like the native plants here. It seems by growing local we've thrown out a welcome mat. Occasionally, we're surprised at who (and what) shows up.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fall(ing) Fruit - Loquat season reigns (and rains)

We have two mature loquat trees at our house( along with fintupplety zillion seedlings).  Loquats, members of the rosaceae family, were originally natives of China.  They've been in cultivation for over a thousand years in Japan and have naturalized worldwide, especially in more temperate zones.
There are reportedly varieties hybridized for home cultivation featuring flowers that open serially, meaning the resulting fruit ripens a few at a time, but our trees most certainly do not do that. The loquat trees we have flower in abundance with the fruit that follows all ripening within the span of a few days.
Loquats are tasty enough, a bit like apricots, but with multiple large inedible seed present in each fruit they are labor intense to process for jam or other uses.  I've gone to the trouble a few times, but the stained fingers along with the potential for fruit flies developing on the mass of ripening loquats it takes to make even a small batch of jam, means most years the fruit is left for wildlife to enjoy.  Squirrels, birds, they all show up to get their share.
Surprisingly to me, even the butterflies line up for loquats.
Polygonia interrogationis/Question Mark Butterfly (note the tiny white punctuation mid-wing) sipping away.
The loquat fruit that ripens and falls naturally to the ground, in combination with the many (many!) more that are partially eaten and then discarded by tree top diners, serve as a reliable draw for both Red Admiral and Question Mark butterflies.
Three to a loquat, no waiting.
Every year as the fruit on the ground reaches critical mass butterflies begin to arrive for an easy feast.  The Hub labors tirelessly to keep the walkway clear, but after a few days the sugary juices accumulate and dry in and on every nook and cranny, making the entire area attractive for puddling.
This Question Mark wasn't budging, no matter how close I came.
According to some sources eating the fruit in quantity results in a mildly sedative effect.  I cannot say how that works in the nervous system of a butterfly, but I have noted behaviors that indicate something is going on after they've spent enough time siphoning up the juices.
Red Admiral on the half shell..
After nectaring, flight apparently becomes optional, with many butterflies simply walking from fruit to fruit, stopping occasionally to fan their wings. As we walk under those trees, some butterflies will still take flight, but they launch only at the last moment, fly to a height of a few feet, and then promptly land again to continue feeding.

Clearly suffering from a lack of good judgement, this Red Admiral decided I looked like quite a reasonable post-juice perch.
OK mister I'm cutting you off.  You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here!

I have a real love-hate relationship with these loquats. The trees are evergreen, with fragrant small flowers pollinators love in late winter, and lovely large leaves that provide significant shade during the hottest part of the year.  As non-natives go, loquats provide all sorts of benefits to the local wildlife and don't seem subject to any threats other than bad weather.  The tops of both trees are currently hail pocked but that hasn't slowed them down in the least. 
On the down side, loquat seed has a very high germination rate. Local squirrels have spit-planted seedlings all along every frequently traveled fence top or tree branch.  In addition, we get a thriving mini-forest of loquat babies sprouting annually immediately underneath and around both parent trees.  The seedlings uproot easily at first, which means I tend to ignore them until they are taller and harder to dislodge.  
This little plot of shame in particular has loquat seedlings ranging in age from one to four years old.  I know... I'm embarrassed for me, too.
I try to imagine, if I had it all to do again, whether or not I'd choose to plant loquats.  While I'm standing outside enjoying the cast shade and surrounded by butterflies, I think I would.  When faced with aprés-fruit cleanup and/or seedling clearing, I'm not nearly so certain.  That said, if after reading this anybody out there is interested in a free loquat seedling (or eight), boy oh boy, have I got you covered.  



Tina said...

I have fond memories of loquats--eating them and spitting out the seeds during spring in Corpus, where I grew up. Oddly, there aren't many loquats in my neighborhood, where there are every other variety of non-native, invasive plants. I'd actually love a loquat, but don't have room. Or, maybe I do....

TexasDeb said...

Tina: I didn't mention it in the post but I remember the same thing growing up - probably why I bought these in the first place.

I have nobody but myself (human wise) to blame for their widespread dispersal around our lot. Like every other form of weeding, it is a true blind spot for me in the sense I don't "see" to attend to pulling them out until after the task has become somewhat monumental. They are lovely, otherwise!

Kris Peterson said...

I understand your mixed feelings about the loquats - I remember similar feelings about the plum trees that grew in the front yard of my childhood home. In that case, the fruit was delicious and easy to eat but no one could eat as much as those trees produced and the clean-up was a nightmare. Still, I enjoyed the photos of the butterflies feeding on the loquats (I never saw that with the plums). You mentioned a sedative effect - maybe the butterflies are just drunk!

TexasDeb said...

Kris: Some afternoons lately I've wondered if all the animals on our block are drunk, but I think their behaviors have as much to do with reproduction as inebriation.

Mmmmm plums...... That sounds idyllic, but not if you're the one stuck with clean up, I'm sure.

Debra said...

I remember one time in the garden when I was pulling up privet seedlings and explaining what I was doing my son asked with some amazement, "Trees can be weeds?" yes indeed
I had some trouble moving on from that picture of the question mark butterfly in the shade because it was THAT beautiful.
In Edmonton people have started a program where you can call volunteers to come by to gather unwanted fruit. Some goes directly to food banks while the rest gets processed first into jams or canned goods for later use. So often urban gardeners get huge quantities ripening all at once which tends to just go to waste. Neat idea to circulate food that way. One person's problem can be another's treasure.

TexasDeb said...

Debra: That program sounds great. There's an old joke about never leaving your car door unlocked in a parking lot during zucchini season because gardeners will be offloading their extras into your vehicle.

Trees can be weeds, indeed. I'm betting you right now I have a few loquat weeds that are as tall as he is. (You -and he- are welcome to as many as you'd like!).

dryheatblog said...

I do like the foliage on loquats, but the messy fruit and the issues that poses...not so sure. Maybe I like them in others' gardens best, like some children and some pets!

Eventually, I will learn more butterflies from your posts, alone.

TexasDeb said...

David/DHB: Loquat foliage is lush, the shade it provides is deep and keeps an entire side of the house significantly cooler all summer. Those are true benefits, along with the attraction for wildlife. We are considering some less permeable surface for the area underneath which could make cleanup significantly easier.

The butterfly thing is becoming a bit of an obsession, I'll admit, but it is so much fun for me when I see types I recognize.

Pam/Digging said...

When it rains it pours. Interesting, isn't it, that it seems to hold as true for fruiting trees as for Texas weather.

TexasDeb said...

Pam: Feast or famine, that is sure enough the way it goes here in Texas. I was born during a drought (which applies to a lot of years) so I grew up hearing people fret about rain. It seems second nature to me to do the same. There might be too much at one time, but it will never be enough, if that makes any sense.

Donna@Gardens Eye View said...

I have never heard of this tree but what a treat for the butterflies and you although clean up has got to be a chore....

TexasDeb said...

Donna: Loquats are more commonly featured in older landscapes in Central Texas - not so much in favor these days I suppose (and that clean up may be why!). I counted 30 butterflies on the walk yesterday AM. They are amazing to watch, especially in such large numbers. As you say - a treat for them and for us!