Everything to know about Dragons Eye Fruit Tree
If you’re hunting for a fruit tree with a difference, it might be time to familiarize yourself with the dragon’s eye fruit tree (or the longan tree, as it’s sometimes called).
A native of southeast Asia, these attractive plants feature a canopy of shiny green leaves, showy yellow flowers, and huge clusters of juicy, sweet fruits.
Peeled, their white, translucent fruits resemble an eyeball – which is where they get their name. Blessed with both form and function, they make an excellent addition to any landscape.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to grow and care for this intriguing tree.
Where Do Dragon’s Eye Fruit Trees Come from?
The dragon’s eye fruit tree is native to southeast Asia. It’s commonly believed to have originated from the mountainous region between Myanmar and southern China.
Although the plant has been hugely popular in Asia for centuries, it’s only in the past 20 years that it’s begun to be commercially cultivated elsewhere.
Outside of Asia, it’s now mainly grown in Florida, Texas, Nevada, Georgia, California, Hawaii, and Arizona, as well as on the east coast of Australia.
What are the Main Features of the Dragon’s Eye Fruit Tree?
The dragon’s eye fruit tree is an erect, evergreen tree that can grow as large as forty feet or more at full height. Dwarf versions are also available.
Distinguishing features include rough bark, long, spreading branches, and clusters of grape-like fruit that grow from mid to late summer.
The fruits have a brown to brownish-green peel, white, translucent flesh with a sweet, slightly musky aftertaste, and a large, single black seed. Known for its high vitamin content, it can be enjoyed fresh, canned, dried, or frozen.
Flowering occurs after the cooler winter months. Expect pale yellow flowers with 6 petals and hairy stalks. New leaf growth is wine-colored, while mature leaves are glossy, leathery, and dark green.
As the dragon’s eye fruit tree is a self-pollinator, you will still get a good harvest of fruit with just one tree.
When Do Dragon’s Eye Fruit Trees Reach Maturity?
The growth rate of the dragon’s eye fruit tree will depend on variables such as temperature, sunlight, and soil, among other things.
Young trees can take anything from 2-6 years to yield fruit, depending on the type of cultivator and the propagation method used during planting.
Plants propagated through grafting or air layering usually mature faster than plants propagated from seed, typically bearing fruit within 3 years.
Are There Different Varieties of Dragon’s Eye Fruit Tree?
The dragon’s eye fruit tree comes in several varieties, all of which have slightly different properties. Some of the most popular varieties include:
A dependable bloomer and early fruiter, the Kohala produces large, flavourful, and intensely sweet fruit with fewer seeds than many other varieties.
Crops can be harvested as early as July. This is the most common variety grown in Florida.
The Wu Yuan is a high-yield variant that produces large, juicy fruit. The seedlings are known for their robustness and vigorous growth.
Diamond River is a relatively new cultivator with some impressive qualities (including luxurious foliage and high annual yields) and some significant drawbacks (including fragile branches and mediocre fruit quality).
Come late August and September, the late-blooming BiewKiew produces large quantities of huge, delicious fruits. It’s not a consistent cropper, but the quality of its yield makes it a hugely popular choice.
The Sri Chompoo is a hardy, fast-growing cultivator that produces wonderfully scented, sweet-tasting fruit. In comparison to most other varieties, it requires heavy fertilizer treatment to produce the best yields.
The Haew might be slow to mature, but it’s worth the wait. A bi-annual bloomer, it produces large quantities of deliciously scented, intensely juicy sweet fruits from the middle to the end of August.
Grown largely in Florida, the Ship’ I produces large, late-season fruits, but of an unexceptional quality.
How to Grow a Dragon’s Eye Fruit Tree?
Like many tropical trees, the dragon’s eye fruit tree is just as happy in a container as in the ground.
Containerized trees are especially ideal for cooler regions where the tree will need to be taken indoors during winter. However, it’s also possible to grow the tree outside, providing the conditions are right.
Before you start planting, here’s what you’ll need to know.
Dragon’s eye fruit trees are native to tropical and subtropical zones. As a result, they prefer warm, humid summers and cooler, dry winters.
They also fare well in drier, less humid environments providing they’re protected from hot, dry winds during summer. Gardeners in cooler regions will need to create a warm microclimate for them to flourish.
Zone 10a-11 is ideal for plants grown outdoors. Trees grown in containers will tolerate patio zone 4b-11 providing they’re bought indoors during winter in colder zones.
Sun & Shade
While dragon’s eye fruit trees love the warmth and benefit from plenty of sunlight, too much direct sun in their early years can cause stem damage and make their leaves burn.
If your region experiences very hot summers with temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, keep the plant protected by growing it under a shade cloth. However, be aware that too much shade may impact the quantity and quality of the fruit harvest.
Dragon’s eye fruit trees are well adapted to a variety of soil types and moisture conditions but do best in well-drained, sandy, slightly acid soil.
If you live in a region with wet winters, plant them on an elevated spot or mound to stop their feet from becoming too wet.
If you buy a grafted or young tree from a nursery, stow the plant in a bucket with around 1/2 inch of water. Keep it in a shady spot away from direct sunlight while you decide on the best planting spot.
Once you’ve picked the place, make a hole measuring three times the diameter and depth of the plant’s root ball. Backfill the hole so the tree is positioned at the same height as it grew in the container.
Propagating from Seed
Dragon’s eye fruit trees can be propagated relatively easily from seeds. However, bear in mind that you’ll need to wait longer for the tree to reach fruit-bearing age than you would if using layering or grafting methods.
Start by peeling the fruit and removing the flesh to reveal the inner seed. Use a knife to scrape away the shiny coat of the seed. Roll the fruit seeds in a paper towel, seal them in a plastic bag and leave them to dry for 10 days.
Fill a pot with a mixture of potting mix, compost, and perlite. Plant the seed about 1 inch into the soil. Cover the pot with a plastic sheet and leave it in a warm, bright spot. Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
Remove the plastic sheet once leaves begin to emerge. Once at least 6 fully grown leaves have formed, transplant the plant into a larger pot with drainage holes.
Water the plant after transplanting. The plant will be ready to be transplanted to its permanent home the following spring.
Propagating by Air Layering
Air layering is a popular technique used in propagating fruit-bearing trees. The process should ideally be started in mid-spring.
Start by selecting a branch from last season’s growth that’s around 1-2 feet long and at least as thick as a pencil.
Find a leaf node around 1 foot from the end of the growth. Trim away any leaves and twigs from the 3 inches above and below the node.
Use a sharp, sterilized knife to carefully cut two parallel rings around the bark. The first ring should be just below the leaf node; the second should be around 1 inch below the first ring.
Use the knife to peel away the bark between the two rings until you see the white wood beneath.
Scrape away the protective layer covering the exposed wood. Dip a paintbrush in liquid rooting hormone and apply it to the exposed wood to encourage root formation.
Soak a handful of sphagnum moss in water for 2 minutes. Rinse it and squeeze as much of the excess water out as possible. Wrap the moss firmly around the exposed wood, ensuring that it extends 1 inch past the top and bottom of the ring.
Once the moss is securely in place, cover it in a layer of plastic wrap. Leave the branch on the tree, checking under the plastic wrap each week for signs of roots.
Once roots begin to emerge on the outside of the moss (this may take around 6-8 weeks, depending on the climate), you can remove the air layer.
Choose a pot that is twice the height and width of the roots. Half fill it with potting soil. Cut the branch below the roots with a pair of pruning shears or a tree saw.
Carefully peel the plastic wrap away from the roots, being careful not to damage them. Add the roots to the potting soil and backfill the pot to 1-2 inches from the top.
Water the plant until the soil feels wet 2 inches below the surface. Place the pot in a warm, draught-free spot in north or south-facing window away from direct light.
Water whenever the soil feels dry one inch below the surface. The plant will be ready for transplanting by the following spring.
Growing in a Container
Dragon’s eye fruit trees grow incredibly well in containers, making them a great option for patios and indoors.
Check the size expectations of the cultivator before selecting the container. Smaller, dwarf varieties will do well in containers measuring 12″ to 16″ in diameter.
Larger varieties will need a container measuring between 16″ to 30″ diameter and with a depth of around 14” deep.
For healthy growth, use a potting soil of equal parts peat moss, sand, bark, or perlite. As tight roots will impact growth, transfer to a larger pot once the tree outgrows its original home.
Planting Young Trees
If you buy a young tree from a nursery, be mindful that it will have been grown under 20-40% shade cloth. Avoid leaf burn by acclimatizing it to its new environment slowly.
Place it in a partially shaded area at first, and slowly move it into a sunny spot over the course of a week. After that, you can proceed with planting.
How to Care for a Dragon’s Eye Fruit Tree?
Although dragon’s eye fruit trees are relatively undemanding, they’ll still need some TLC to produce the best harvest. To encourage healthy growth and a high-quality yield, here are some of the top tips and techniques to remember.
Young dragon’s eye fruit trees prefer moist soil. Water the plant frequently when it’s small to ensure healthy growth.
Once the plant hits maturity (this will be around 3 years for trees propagated from cuttings or 6 years for plants grown from seed), reduce the frequency of watering during fall and winter, but continue to water regularly during flowering and fruiting.
For high-quality fruit crops and healthy growth, feeding your tree is a must.
In the first year of the tree’s life, add 1/4 pound of 5-5-5 NPK fertilizer every two months.
During the second year, lower the frequency to every three months and increase the amount to 1/2 lb of fertilizer. After the 2nd year, continue to fertilize with 1 pound of fertilizer every three months until the tree reaches fruit-bearing age.
Once the tree reaches maturity, add five pounds of organic fertilizer once in early spring, again in late spring, and for a third and final time before or during the harvest in late summer. Avoid fertilizing the tree in winter as this will reduce flowering in spring.
Dragon’s eye fruit trees can grow and spread to a significant degree. Regular pruning will help keep the tree manageable while also improving air circulation, light penetration, and aesthetic appeal.
Start by choosing 3-4 of its strongest branches to keep. Prune the rest of the branches with cutting tools that have been pre-sterilized in rubbing alcohol or a household disinfectant.
Trim the shoots by a couple of inches to encourage a compact shape. Any dead or diseased branches should also be removed.
Pruning can be completed during and immediately after harvest. Avoid pruning in the winter as this will reduce flowering the following spring.
In early spring, you should start to notice clusters of small, greenish-yellow blossoms begin to emerge.
Wait for the green fruits that form on the clusters to grow to the size of peas before reducing the cluster by half. This will encourage higher quality flowering and fruiting.
Before you start harvesting the fruits, wait for them to ripen fully. Depending on the variety, this will usually be in late summer. Unlike many other fruits, dragon’s eye fruits won’t continue to ripen after they’ve been removed from the tree.
Once the fruits have turned from a green-yellow color to tan, taste one to test for ripeness.
If it’s ready, carefully snip each cluster from the tree using sterilized pruning shears. Take care not to cut the leaves or wood. Once harvested, the fruits can be bagged and refrigerated for between 5-7 days.
What Diseases Are Dragon’s Eye Fruit Trees Prone to?
The dragon’s eye fruit tree is relatively resistant to major disease, but can occasionally experience issues. Watch out for:
Algal Leaf Spot Disease
One of the most common problems affecting the plant is algal leaf spot disease, a condition that occurs in high humidity.
The disease is characterized by rough, brown, gray, or orange blotches on the surface of the leaves.
Each blotch will usually measure 1.5cm or less. Occasionally, the blotches can merge to form a larger blotch. Fortunately, the problem is largely cosmetic rather than a serious concern.
The best way to avoid it is to maintain proper soil drainage. Keeping the plant well pruned to encourage healthy air circulation and light penetration will also help.
Dispose of any infected leaves that fall from the tree carefully to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
Water the plant from the base and avoid wetting the leaves. A copper-based fungicide should be applied once every two to three weeks in damp weather if the infection is severe.
A less common but much more serious condition is Phytophthora, an often deadly disease that causes root rot.
Symptoms include a drooping crown, dieback of shoots and foliage, soft, brown roots, wilting foliage, and a blackening trunk.
The condition is caused by a spore-producing pathogen that can lay dormant in the soil for years until the conditions for infection are optimal. It thrives in soil with poor drainage and will typically attack vulnerable plants during prolonged wet periods.
Unfortunately, the symptoms of the disease will often stay hidden until the infection has become too widespread to treat. There are, however, multiple means of controlling the spread of disease and the risk of infection.
What are the Preventative measures against diseases?
Improve Soil Drainage
Phytophthora thrives in poorly drained, water-clogged soil. If you live in an area that experiences wet winters, use loam soil (a combination of silt, sand, and clay) to encourage adequate drainage and airflow while also maintaining optimal moisture and nutrient levels.
Apply Hydrogen Peroxide
Hydrogen peroxide is an excellent tool against pathogens like Phytophthora. Mix 1 part peroxide to 3 parts water and apply directly to the soil.
You can also use commercial solutions of 3% household hydrogen peroxide. Let the peroxide penetrate the soil completely before you water it again.
Pathogens like Phytophthora love to hitch a ride on weeds. Remove any weeds on sight, taking care to remove the roots as well. Dispose of them immediately to avoid an infection spreading.
If any plants in your garden have become affected by Phytophthora, take extra special care to clean and disinfect garden equipment after use.
This will help prevent the disease from spreading to any other plants. Use a solution of 1-part bleach to 4 parts water to ensure complete sterilization.
Although the dragon’s eye fruit tree isn’t usually susceptible to insect or pest infestations, they become more so if they’re already under attack from pathogens.
Similarly, pest infestations can leave plants more susceptible to pathogens. If you live in a wet region where soil pathogens thrive, be especially vigilant when it comes to pest control.
What Is the Dragon’s Eye Fruit Tree Used for?
The main uses of the dragon’s eye fruit tree include:
Although the dragon’s eye fruit tree is a very attractive species, it’s grown primarily for its function, rather than its form.
While it’s a slightly unreliable fruiter (some cultivators produce annual yields, others only fruit bi-annually), its harvest is prized for its flavor, sweetness, and juiciness.
From the outside, the fruit looks bland, but once you peel away the bark-like shell, you’ll discover whitish, translucent pulp with a unique bouquet, a sweet-sour taste, and a slightly musky aftertaste.
Although it bears a physical resemblance to the lychee, the taste is more tropical, with a juicier texture and a flavor that’s like a cross between a mango and melon.
The fruit can be enjoyed fresh, dried, or preserved in syrup. In Asia, it’s used in a wide variety of cuisine, including snacks, soups, and desserts.
In addition to having a place in Asian cuisine, the dragon’s eye fruit is also used for its medicinal qualities.
In Chinese food therapy and herbal medicine, it’s believed to offer relaxation benefits, as well as a cure for stomach aches, insomnia, and memory loss. In traditional Vietnamese medicine, meanwhile, it’s occasionally used as an (admittedly unreliable) treatment for snake bites.
Vitamins & Minerals
Nutritionally, the dragon’s eye fruit is a powerhouse, boasting an incredibly impressive number of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Just 100 grams of raw fruit will provide Thiamine (B1): 3% DV; Riboflavin (B2): 12% DV; Niacin (B3): 2% DV; Vitamin C: 101% DV; Iron: 1% DV; Magnesium: 3% DV; Manganese: 2%. Phosphorus: 3% DV; Potassium: 6% DV; and Zinc: 1% DV.