By David Gress
The Bronze Loquat is a broad-leafed evergreen tree that thrills the senses in the spring and adds a charming accent to the landscape year around. It earned its common name from its eye-catching new leaves, deep bronze in color, which appear this time of year.
Bronze Loquat is a small- to medium-sized tree; it can reach a height of 30 feet but, in our Mediterranean climate, usually grows to a mature height of only 15 to 20 feet with an equal, or sometimes wider, canopy spread.
It forms a densely rounded crown that is adorned with leathery leaves (6- to 12-inches long and 1½- to 2½-inches wide), which are ovate to elliptical in shape with coarsely serrated edges. After the spring flowering, new leaves emerge near the ends of branches – these stand quite upright and show off a strikingly glossy bronze color. As they mature, they gradually turn a dark green on top and a lighter green on the underside.
In spring, the Bronze Loquat produces enormous numbers of white flowers that completely cover the crown like snow. The five-petalled flowers are rather small (up to 1-in. in diameter) and are clustered in panicles at the ends of the branches. Each flower is “perfect”, which means it holds both male and female reproductive parts. The flowers are extremely attractive to bees and other pollinators; at peak bloom, the tree hums with their attention. In addition to the spectacular visual impact of the masses of flowers, they perfume the air with a wonderfully sweet fragrance.
After pollination, the flowers develop into fleshy pome fruits (up to 3/41-inch round). The fruits start out a velvety green color, turning a yellow-brown and then a deep blue, and are each capped with a distinctive brown calyx at the flower end. Although the Bronze Loquat is the lesser-known cousin of the familiar edible loquat (Eriobotrya japonica), the former’s fruits are not edible.
When the tree is young, its bark is a light-gray color and smooth; as it matures, it turns a brownish- to blackish-gray and is slightly rougher.
The botanical name for the Bronze Loquat is Eriobotrya deflexa. The genus name, Eriobotrya, combines the Greek words “erion” (meaning “wool”, referring to the fuzzy panicles) and “botrys” (meaning “cluster of grapes”, referring to the fruit clusters). The specific epithet, deflexa, (meaning “bent abruptly downwards”) likely refers to the way the older leaves bend backward behind newly emerging leaves. It is a member of the Rosaceae (Rose) family.
Bronze Loquat is endemic to lower elevation subtropical forests in China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In those areas, it has been used in traditional medicines.
Bronze Loquat grows best in full sun but can grow well in partial shade. It is tolerant of many types of soil, from sandy to clay, but it should be well drained. It can tolerate sub-freezing temperatures for short durations. Once established, it is quite drought-tolerant but looks much better with some irrigation during very dry periods. With additional watering, it normally grows at a rate of 2 feet per year or more. It is much appreciated by gardeners for its nature as a low-maintenance tree requiring little pruning and having relatively few insect or disease problems. However, as with many other members of the Rose family, it is susceptible to two bacterial diseases, fireblight and leaf spot, which seem to get worse during times of prolonged foggy weather. For control, you can prune off the affected stems.
Bronze Loquat is very versatile and can fulfill many functions in the landscape. It can be trained to grow as a single-trunked tree – as a multiple-trunked tree – or as a large shrub. Its beautiful foliage and flowers make it a picturesque specimen tree as a garden feature. It is a fine street tree. It can be combined with other plants and small trees for a background border planting or for privacy screening. In gardens with space constraints, it can be pruned as an espalier or even maintained as a small patio tree or potted tree. It is a perfect choice for a pollinator garden.
Bronze Loquats should be readily available in local nurseries. Recently, there has been a hybrid developed called “Coppertone Loquat” (Eriobotrya ‘Coppertone’), which is a cross between Bronze Loquat and Indian Hawthorn (Rhaphiolepis indica); it combines the best features of both plants and makes an attractive and disease resistant small tree or large shrub.
Bronze Loquat has been planted in the Santa Barbara area only since the early 1960s and is still rather rarely seen in our area. It really should be considered more frequently for inclusion in locations that would benefit from its exceptional qualities. Certainly, it would be a delightful addition to almost any private garden or public landscape.
Mature Bonze Loquats can be seen in several locations in our community as street trees: on Terni Lane in Hidden Valley; at the corner of Santa Barbara Street and Anapamu Street; and, on the 600 Block of Del Monte Avenue. There is a large attractive specimen in the 100 Block of Dearborn Place.
Tree-of-the-Month articles are sponsored by Santa Barbara Beautiful, whose many missions include the increase of public awareness and appreciation of Santa Barbara’s many outstanding trees and, in a long-time partnership with the City Parks & Recreation Department, the funding and planting of trees along the City’s streets.
Those who wish to honor a special someone can do so with an attractive commemorative marker that will be installed at the base of an existing street tree in the City of Santa Barbara. Because Santa Barbara Beautiful has participated in the planting to date of over 13,000 street trees, there are plenty of trees from which to choose! Application forms are available on the Santa Barbara Beautiful website, www.sbbeautiful.org.
Article and Photos by David Gress