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lychee

lychee lē´chē [key], Chinese tree (Litchi chinensis) of the family Sapindaceae (soapberry family), having a small, aromatic, pulpy fruit with a large seed within a thin, rough shell. It is the best-known Chinese fruit and a favorite with the Chinese, who use it fresh, canned, dried, or preserved. When dried it appears as a nut with a raisinlike center; when canned its outer shell is removed. The fruit, particularly the seed, contains toxins and other substances that have been implicated in an acute noninflammatory hypoglycemic encephalopathy that has occurred primarily in malnourished children, especially when they have eaten underripe fruits on an empty stomach. The tree is now grown in other warm countries and to some extent in the United States in S Florida and California. Among variant spellings are leechee, lichee, and litchi. Lychees are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Sapindales, family Sapindaceae.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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