Wednesday, May 23, 2001


Eddie Dayondon's lychee tree has not produced any fruit.
During the past two years, he said yesterday, strong winds
have blown off flowers, resulting in no lychee.

Weather wrecks
lychee season

But a Hilo orchard is selling
its best crop ever for
$5 a pound

By Lisa Asato

Eddie Dayondon is used to seeing red in the summer, literally. His two lychee trees -- famous in his Pauoa Valley neighborhood -- usually produce about 1,000 pounds of the scaly, red-skinned fruit. But this year, he says, he will be lucky if he has enough to fill a shopping bag.

"All the people that know me, they pass by, I flag them down (to get lychee) and the kids love it, so I feel pretty good about that," said Dayondon. But his trees, which usually flower by now, are only producing new leaves.

And Dayondon is not alone.

"There's never enough lychee, but this year the fruiting is especially bad because of the weather," said Wayne Nishijima, interim county administrator of the UH College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources in Hilo.

The trees are flowering about three months late, he said, meaning "fruiting won't happen until later ... and overall you may end up with fewer fruits."

Robert Paull, chairman of the UH tropical plant and soil sciences department in Honolulu, said lychee are finicky to begin with, but this year's flowers are scarce because a drought last year was followed by rain. That spurred new leaves to grow and prevented flowering, he said.

Even the tougher kaimana variety, "which is normally pretty good, this year hasn't been a very happy camper," he said.

Like Dayondon of Pauoa Valley, Daniel Park of Wahiawa does not need an expert to tell him lychee will be in short supply.

"When you drive around you can tell we're going to get less," Park said.

Wahiawa's California Avenue, where there is "nothing but lychee trees in every yard," is kind of bare, said Park, who has his own philosophy on the ups and downs of the seasonal fruit.

"This year, don't have much," he said. "The next year, there's going to be a few more. The following year, everything's blooming, mango and all."

The shortage is also visible in Chinatown, where yesterday CTN at Maunakea Marketplace was selling bags of lychee for $5 per pound, while most vendors did not have any to sell.

"Naka" Nakamura at Ace Market on North King Street said the shop normally gets its lychee from a reliable grower on the Big Island, but the store was told not to depend on anything coming in this year. "It's that bad," he said.

Of course, there is always an exception.

"We have a bumper crop this year," said commercial grower Richard Johnson. "The orchard has been here for 10 years, and this might be the best year yet."

Johnson owns an orchard on the Hamakua Coast north of Hilo where he and his wife grow less than an acre of lychee. This season, they have sold lychee for $5 a pound, compared with $3 per pound "when everybody has them." And those are the farmer's prices, not the market prices, he adds.

How does Johnson account for his bumper crop amid an otherwise lackluster year? "Dumb luck," he said.

"Lychees are very cantankerous. They want to do what they want to do. We're at an elevation that's not very good for them ... and for whatever reason, this year, they decided to go for it."

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