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Hardy Citrus

Vince Carr, Northolt, Middlesex, UK
Chamaerops No.48 - published online 24-05-2004

Poncirus trifoliata with ripe fruit, growing in Southeastern Germany.
Photo: Tobias W. Spanner

Palms still give me a buzz. At the base of my female Trachy are numerous seedlings dating from Summer 2002 and they remind me of how I used to admire the self sown Phoenix at street level along the golden coasts of Spain, back in the 1970's when I first paid them a visit. What I also remember are the olive trees and the bamboos, which are now commonplace in garden centres throughout the U.K., as are many species of palms.

My last birthday present to myself was a dear little Phoenix roebelenii, about 60 cm tall, which is currently overwintering in my frost free greenhouse with some Hibiscus syriacus, assorted Agave, Aloe, Opuntias, Echinocactus grusonii and Dicksonia antartica. The olives and the Yucca all live outside with the Trachys and Musa basjoo, but there is something of a botanical gap, indeed a veritable chasm; let me explain.

My first venture abroad was on one New Year's Eve in the 1970's on a long weekend to Torremolinos in Andalusia. After sitting in a snowbound aircraft at Luton Airport for 6 hours until finally we were able to take off, it was a revelation to leave the plane in Malaga in the warmth of a southern Spanish evening. We went out for dinner in Torremolinos and walked through streets lined with Seville Orange trees, the fruit of which were trodden underfoot without comment by assorted holiday-makers.

That's when it hit me. Why can't we grow oranges and lemons outside in the U.K.? Don't be silly, for the same reason that we can't grow palms outdoors too. Well, that myth was demolished in the fullness of time, wasn't it? So what about the citrus then? I did not try anything for a few decades, until I joined the Royal Horticultural Society in Autumn 2002 and was reading through the advertisements at the rear of their journal, The Garden. There it was in black and white: Hardy Citrus, from Jungle Gardens.

Apparently, in the late 1800's, controlled crosses were made between the hardy Japanese Bitter Orange, Poncirus trifoliata, and the sweet orange Citrus sinensis, with the cross being popularly known as Citrange. In 1909, the Citrange was crossed with the Kumquat and the resulting cultivar was called the Citrangequat. There also exists a cross between Citrange and Citrus limon, the lemon, with the resulting cultivar known as Citremon.

Needless to say, these hardy citrus plants produce fruit that is somewhat lacking in the sweetness department, but there have been further crosses in attempts to improve the sweetness and some of these are now available.

I well remember the excitement I felt when I bought my first Trachy and planted it in the garden. I felt the same sensation when planting my first olive, tree fern, etcetera. Now I have the same sense of pleasurable anticipation whilst waiting for Spring 2003 proper and the delivery of my first two Citrus plants.

My first variety is a Citrangequat Thomasville, which is described as a sweet and juicy fruiting variety and the result of a cross between Citrange and Kumquat. The description continues: "supplied as a 1 litre plant, the tree is vigorous, erect and very ornamental with mostly trifoliate leaves and good cold resistance —10°C unprotected and —15°C with crown protection. The oval fruit resembles the Kumquat, acidic but becoming edible when fully mature, although relatively seedy. It is very juicy, valued for eating out-of-hand and for juice drinks".

My second variety is a Citremon, supplied as a 1 litre plant and described thus: "The Citremon is a Citrange crossed with Grapefruit and crossed again with a Lemon. Another good lemon substitute, a bit more bitter than the Ichang Lemon. Hardier though, to —10°C". For the first 3 years these plants will need to be overwintered in a frost free greenhouse but then they may be left out for the entire year. I thought that I would start off with just two plants to see how I get on and then if all goes well I plan to try some other varieties in the range.

I list below some Internet links which I hope will enable any interested EPS members to obtain some further information.

(see also Poncirus and Ichang Papeda and Cultural Advice) A valuable resource on Hardy Citrus cultivation.

This University of Melbourne multilingual, multiscript, plant name database 'Sorting Citrus Names'.

This is the Agrumi Voss web site in Germany about Frosthärtere Citruspflanzen. It contains some English descriptions but it would probably be difficult to order for those EPS members who don't speak German.

This is a UK company called Jungle Gardens based in Watlington Oxfordshire who supply Hardy Citrus plants as well as other items.


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