Whether you say loquat or biwa, luscious fruit blooms in Hawai'i
By Heidi Bornhorst
|The loquat tree, native to southeastern China and possibly the southern end of Japan, also grows in Hawai'i back yards.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
John Lee, Hawai'i Kai
Dear Heidi: What is biwa? My friends Jan Drammer and Janet Hariguchi went to visit Janet's mother, Grandma Hironaka, at Mahelona Hospital, and they brought me this tree sapling. The plant, bought at the Mahelona garage and plant sale, was labeled biwa.
JoAnne Pinney, Hanalei, Kaua'i
Dear John and JoAnne: Your letters, it turns out, are about the same fruit-bearing tree. Biwa is the Japanese name for loquat.
Loquats are still a backyard crop in Hawai'i and are even seen as a weed in some places, such as the upper elevations at Volcano. They grow well in our cooler, mountainous regions, such as John's tutu's Kula home and garden.
The loquat tree is native to southeastern China and possibly the southern end of Japan, and it is widely cultivated. The tree is evergreen, with distinctly ribbed leaves, and grows 10 to 30 feet tall in Hawai'i. The fruits are small, pale to deep yellow in color, and pear-shaped, with one to three seeds inside.
The taste is delicately sweet with a bit of tartness. You can eat the fruit fresh or cooked. In Hawai'i, the trees usually bear fruit in late winter. Be careful when eating; the kernels are said to be poisonous if cracked open and eaten in large quantities.
In Japan, loquat is a popular fruit, with many superior varieties. The climate there is probably better for biwa, just as it is for flowering cherry blossoms, azaleas, pines and other more temperate plants.
The word loquat seems to be from the Cantonese language. Eriobotrya japonica is the Latin name. It belongs to the rose family, also called Rosaceae. Other names for the fruit include Japanese medlar and Japanese plum.
An interesting side note: The phrase Japanese plum usually refers to ume, which in turn is sometimes called a Japanese apricot. Doesn't a loquat seem more like an apricot than a plum?
The Mandarin name is pipa; the Cantonese name is luh kwat. You can see where we get the common name in English.
Years ago, a bird "planted" a loquat tree in my parents' yard. We kids loved the fruit, abundant in its season and easy to pick. My entrepreneurial friends Susan and Kathy Largosa and I would collect the fruits and try to sell them from Makiki Park. We ate most of them.
My parents would talk of chopping down the tree, and my dad did give it a basal haircut with a hand saw several times, but it kept coming back, full of fruit. We were happy. There is something so appealing for keiki about climbing into a tree and picking fresh fruit.
Heidi Bornhorst is director of Honolulu's botanical gardens. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.