Breeding new cultivars to advance the South African litchi industry

A. Sippel, A. Mabirimisa
The first litchi tree was imported into South Africa in 1875 and, for more than a century, the industry relied on only two cultivars that have dominated plantings. Further, in the early 1990s demand arose for high quality, early and late cultivars in the wake of increasing competition from other southern hemisphere-producing countries. In order to ensure that the industry remains competitive, a breeding programme was initiated at the Agricultural Research Council in 1993 to combine the favourable traits of selected cultivars through hybridization. Unfortunately, these initial efforts in litchi plant improvement were hampered by a lack of genetic diversity available in the South African collection, consequently resulting in slow progress through limited open pollination and controlled crosses. In order to progress plant improvement efforts, it therefore became clear that the narrow genetic base of cultivars available in South Africa needed to be expanded. This paper reports on the breeding processes, as well as procedures followed and challenges experienced to import new cultivars. It also reports on the progress made during the last five years, highlighting new cultivars registered with Plant Breeders' Rights and commercially-released, as well as the large number of promising selections in the pipeline for future release. Evaluation of this material is currently a priority as a number of early- and late-season selections have been identified.
Sippel, A. and Mabirimisa, A. (2020). Breeding new cultivars to advance the South African litchi industry. Acta Hortic. 1293, 79-84
DOI: 10.17660/ActaHortic.2020.1293.11
Litchi chinensis, Dimocarpus longan, plant improvement, fruit, breeding, evaluation

Acta Horticulturae