Last week my wife and I had the great fun of staying at one of the world’s most luxurious hotels. We were clearly living well above our pay grade. The proprietors specialize in treating folks well. I knew we were in for a treat when a staff member (unbidden) brought to our room a plate of the most delicious, fresh loquat fruit imaginable. I said to myself, “Self, these people are classy!” “You don’t belong here, but for the moment make believe you do and eat a bit of this most elegant fruit.” And that is just what we did!
I was first introduced to the loquat years and years ago at the home of a friend who worked for the Exon corporation over in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The Kinnairds were the best of folks. They just oozed Southern kindness and classiness. My stay with the Kinnairds began with a walk around the house before breakfast, and that is where I met the “loquat”. John said it was a classic Southern garden plant. Folks made jellies from its orange pear-shaped fruit (golf ball size) in the spring. He added that it was also called the Japanese plum.
When I got home from our visit in Baton Rouge, I went up to the SFASU library and studied up on the loquat. It has a bunch of names attached to it: Japanese Mespilus, Loquat, Mespilus japonica, but Eriobotrya japonica is its Latin name. (By the way, Eriobotrya means “wooly grapes” because it has harry or fuzzy flower buds that look like grapes). Whatever its name, it was cool because my Louisiana friend Mr. Kinnaird had it in his yard! Nacogdoches has deep cultural connections with things east of the Sabine River. This is true horticulturally as well. We are in Deep East Texas. When the early settlers came to Nacogdoches, the last cultural outpost for them was Baton Rouge and New Orleans. In the early days of Nacogdoches, wagonloads of settlers came into East Texas cherishing the memories of “cultured” Louisiana and bearing plant material from Louisiana as a hope for their gardens in the new land of Texas.
The loquat is an evergreen tree growing to 20’. Doing well in sun or part shade, it thrives best in rich well-drained soil. It has 10” dark green, leathery leaves that are fuzzy and lighter colored underneath. It also has sweet smelling, creamy-white flowers in the late fall and early winter. Hummingbirds will stop and visit the loquat on their fall and winter migration south. The loquat is sensitive to freezing winter cold snaps, sometimes being knocked back in a very hard freeze, so plant it in protected areas.
The loquat fruits regularly in San Antonio, irregularly here in colder Nacogdoches. But when it does fruit, it will give a bumper crop. This wonderful fruit tree requires up to 7 years of juvenile (non-fruiting) growth before fruiting begins; so, while it is young, be patient and consider it as an evergreen ornamental.
Fertilize the loquat only lightly, for over-fertilization causes it to be prone to fire blight. The loquat is famed in Japan where they grow hundreds of different named cultivars. A careful search here in the states will uncover named cultivars like: “Thales”, “Champagne”, “Gold Nugget”, “MacBeth”, “Moy Grande”, etc. If you care deeply about the fruit, buy a named cultivar. One will often find the simple “loquat” in nurseries; these plants are grown from seed and the fruit you get from them will be unpredictable in quality. But no matter. I’m sure it will be good enough, sweet and juicy!
Which brings me back to our nights staying in the snazzy hotel. I brought the seed home left over from our fancy meal . They are set out in pots right now. I’m thinking of loquat jelly, loquat curry dishes, loquat muffins and loquat pie. Yummy! But I don’t think anything could be more elegant than a simple dish of fresh loquat, the classiest of meals for a common man.