Although litchis have been known in South Africa since 1875, it was more than 100 years later (in 1987) that a Litchi Growers' Association was first established. The Chairman at that time was Mr Mike Tooley, and the Research Co-ordinator was Professor J.M. Kotzé. In his introduction to the first Litchi Yearbook (1988), Professor Kotzé states, "Perhaps the biggest challenge is to overcome the problems of export by sea and to put fresh litchis on the sophisticated markets in Europe and the United Kingdom."
The most important growing region is in the Onderberg area, the hot Lowveld of Mpumalanga, which produces nearly 60% of all South African litchis. The next most important area is Tzaneen, with 22% of total production.
Propagation of litchi trees by air-layering started in the 4th century and grafting in the 14th century. Propagation by seed, however, continued until the 16th century (Menzel & Simpson, 1990).
Starting at the end of the 17th century, the litchi was taken to other nearby tropical and subtropical areas, such as Burma, India, Taiwan, and later to Mauritius, Madagascar and the East coast of Africa. In 1782, Pierre Sonnerat gave the first full description of the litchi, and he also gave it its scientific name (Oosthuizen, 1992a).
Although many cultivars have been introduced to South Africa, commercial plantings are principally based on two cultivars, namely HLH Mauritius (also known as Tai So) and McLean's Red. The ratio of HLH Mauritius to McLean's Red, according to the 1990/91 litchi tree census, was 75% to 25% of the total number of trees (Milne, 1992).
In 1987 the South African Litchi Growers' Association (SALGA) was formed as well as a Research and Technical Committee to attend to the immediate problems in the litchi industry. For the first time, a Litchi Yearbook (Vol. 1) was compiled and printed in May 1988 (Kotzé, 1988).
In 1992 the ARC Campus for Tropical and Subtropical Crops started a cultivar evaluation project where cultivars are evaluated under various climatic conditions. In March of 1999 two new introduced cultivars, viz. Fay Zee Siu and Wai Chee were released to the litchi industry. Fay Zee Siu being an early cultivar, recommended for warm areas and Wai Chee, a late cultivar well suited for cooler areas (Froneman, 1999).
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