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Citrus is a common term and genus of flowering plants in the family Rutaceae, originating in tropical and subtropical southeast regions of the world. The most well known examples are the orange, the lemon, the grapefruit, and the lime. The Latin word citrus was borrowed from ancient Greek kedros "cedar, juniper" probably through Etruscan. The Romans applied the word to several different trees with fragrant foliage or wood (compare the completely unrelated cedars).The taxonomy and systematics of the genus are complex and the precise number of natural species is unclear, as many of the named species are clonally propagated hybrid, and there is genetic evidence that even some wild, true-breeding species are of hybrid origin. Cultivated Citrus may be derived from as few as four ancestral species. Natural and cultivated origin hybrids include commercially important fruit such as the orange, grapefruit, lemons, some limes, and some tangerines.

Research suggests that the closely related genus Fortunella (kumquats), and perhaps also Poncirus and the Australian Microcitrus and Eremocitrus, should be included in Citrus; most botanists now classify Microcitrus and Eremocitrus as part of the genus Citrus.


Slices of various citrus fruits
These plants are large shrubs or small trees, reaching 5–15 m tall, with spiny shoots and alternately arranged evergreen leaves with an entire margin. The flowers are solitary or in small corymbs, each flower 2–4 cm diameter, with five (rarely four) white petals and numerous stamens; they are often very strongly scented. The fruit is a hesperidium, a specialised berry, globose to elongated, 4–30 cm long and 4–20 cm diameter, with a leathery rind surrounding segments or "liths" filled with pulp vesicle. The genus is commercially important as many species are cultivated for their fruit, which is eaten fresh, pressed for juice, or preserved in marmalades.

Citrus fruits are notable for their fragrance, partly due to flavonoids and limonoids (which in turn are terpenes) contained in the rind, and most are juice-laden. The juice contains a high quantity of citric acid giving them their characteristic sharp flavour. They are also good sources of vitamin C and flavonoids.


Citrus trees hybrid very readily – depending on the pollen source, plants grown from a Persian Lime's seeds can produce fruit similar to grapefruit. Thus all commercial citrus cultivation uses trees produced by grafting the desired fruiting cultivars onto rootstocks selected for disease resistance and hardiness.

The colour of citrus fruits only develops in climates with a (diurnal) cool winter. In tropical regions with no winter, citrus fruits remain green until maturity, hence the tropical "green oranges". The Persian Lime in particular is extremely sensitive to cool conditions, thus it is not usually exposed to cool enough conditions to develop a mature colour. If they are left in a cool place over winter, the fruits will change colour to yellow.

It is important to note that the terms "ripe" and "mature" are usually used synonymously, but they actually mean different things. A mature fruit is one that has completed its growth phase. This will also ensure that it completes its ripening phase and reaches optimal quality for consumption, because a fruit cannot ripen until it reaches maturity. Ripening is the term used to describe the changes that occur within the fruit from the time it reaches maturity to the beginning of decay. These changes usually involve starches converting to sugars, a decrease in acids and a softening and change in the fruit's colour.

Citrus fruits do not go through a ripening process in the sense that they become "tree ripe." Some fruits, for example cherries, physically mature and then continue to ripen on the tree. Other fruits, like pears, are picked when mature but before they ripen, then continue to ripen off the tree. Citrus fruits pass from immaturity to maturity to over-maturity while still on the tree. Once they are separated from the tree, they will not increase in sweetness or continue to ripen. The only way change may happen after being picked is that they will eventually start to decay.

With oranges, colour cannot be used as an indicator of ripeness because sometimes the rinds turn orange long before the oranges are ready to eat. Tasting them is the only way to know whether or not they are ready to eat.

Citrus trees are not generally frost hardy. Mandarin Oranges (C. reticulata) tend to be the hardiest of the common Citrus species and can withstand short periods down to as cold as −10 °C, but realistically temperatures not falling below −2 °C are required for successful cultivation. Tangerines, tangors and yuzu can be grown outside even in regions with more marked sub-zero degrees in winter, although this may affect fruit quality. A few hardy hybrids can withstand temperatures well below freezing, but do not produce quality fruit. Lemons can be commercially grown in cooler-summer/moderate-winter coastal Southern California, because sweetness is neither attained nor expected in retail lemon fruit. The related Trifoliate Orange (Poncirus trifoliata) can survive below −20 °C; its fruit are astringent and inedible unless cooked but a few better-tasting cultivars and hybrids have been developed (see citranges).
Leaf of Citrus tree
The trees thrive in a consistently sunny, humid environment with fertile soil and adequate rainfall or irrigation. Abandoned trees in valleys may suffer, yet survive, the dry summer of Central California's Inner Coast Ranges. At any age citrus grows well enough with infrequent irrigation in partial shade, but the fruit crop is smaller. Though broadleaved, they are evergreen and do not drop leaves except when stressed. The stems of many varieties have large sharp thorns. The trees flower in the spring, and fruit is set shortly afterward. Fruit begins to ripen in fall or early winter months, depending on cultivar, and develops increasing sweetness afterward. Some cultivars of tangerines ripen by winter. Some, such as the grapefruit, may take up to eighteen months to ripen.

Major commercial citrus growing areas include southern China, the Mediterranean Basin (including southern Spain), South Africa, Australia, the southernmost United Statesmarker and parts of South America. In the United States, Floridamarker, Californiamarker, Arizonamarker, and Texasmarker are major producers, while smaller plantings are present in other Sun Beltmarker states.

As ornamental plants

Citrus trees grown in tubs and wintered under cover were a feature of Renaissance gardens, once glass-making technology enabled sufficient expanses of clear glass to be produced. An orangery was a feature of royal and aristocratic residences through the 17th and 18th centuries. The Orangerie at the Palace of the Louvremarker, 1617, inspired imitations that were not eclipsed until the development of the modern greenhouse in the 1840s. In the United States the earliest surviving orangery is at the Tayloe House, Mount Airy, Virginiamarker. George Washington had an orangery at Mount Vernonmarker.

Some modern hobbyists still grow dwarf citrus in containers or greenhouses in areas where it is too cold to grow it outdoors. Consistent climate, sufficient sunlight, and proper watering are crucial if the trees are to thrive and produce fruit. Compared to many of the usual "green shrubs", citrus trees better tolerate poor container care. For cooler winter areas, lime and lemons should not be grown, since they are more sensitive to winter cold than other citrus fruits. Hybrids with kumquatsCitrofortunella) have good cold resistance.

Pests and diseases

Citrus plants are very liable to infestation by aphids, whitefly and scale insects (e.g. California red scale). Also rather important are the viral infections to which some of these ectoparasites serve as vectors such as the aphid-transmitted Citrus tristeza virus which when unchecked by proper methods of control is devastating to citrine plantations.

European brown snails (Helix aspersa) can be a problem in California, though laying female Khaki Campbell and other Mallard-based ducks can be used for control.

The foliage is also used as a food plant by the larvae of Lepidoptera (butterfly and moth) species such as the Geometridae Hemithea aestivaria (Common Emerald) and Gymnoscelis rufifasciata (Double-striped Pug), the Arctiidae Hypercompe scribonia (Giant Leopard Moth), H. eridanus, H. icasia and H. indecisa and many species in the family Papilionidae (swallowtail butterflies).

Since 2000, the Citrus Leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella) has been a pest in California, boring meandering patterns through leaves.


Brazilmarker, Indiamarker, the United Statesmarker, Mexicomarker, Italymarker and the People's Republic of Chinamarker are the world's largest citrus-producing countries. Of these, Brazil, the US, and Mexico are the world's largest producers of oranges, whilst China produces most of the world's mandarins, and India is the world's largest producer of lemons and limes.



Many citrus fruits, such as oranges, tangerines, grapefruits, and clementines, are generally eaten fresh. They are typically peeled and can be easily split into segments. Grapefruit is more commonly halved and eaten out of the skin with a spoon. There are special spoons (grapefruit spoons) with serrated tips designed for this purpose. Orange and grapefruit juices are also very popular breakfast beverages. More astringent citrus, such as lemons and limes, are generally not eaten on their own. Meyer Lemons can be eaten 'out of hand' with the fragant skin; they are both sweet and sour. Lemonade or limeade are popular beverages prepared by diluting the juices of these fruits and adding sugar. Lemons and limes are also used as garnishes or in cooked dishes. Their juice is used as an ingredient in a variety of dishes; it can commonly be found in salad dressings and squeezed over cooked meat or vegetables. A variety of flavours can be derived from different parts and treatments of citrus fruits. The rind and oil of the fruit is generally very bitter, especially when cooked, and so is often combined with sugar. The fruit pulp can vary from sweet and tart to extremely sour. Marmalade, a condiment derived from cooked orange and lemon, can be especially bitter, but is usually sweetened to cut the bitterness and produce a jam-like result. Lemon or lime is commonly used as a garnish for water, soft drinks, or cocktails. Citrus juices, rinds, or slices are used in a variety of mixed drinks. The colourful outer skin of some citrus fruits, known as zest, is used as a flavouring in cooking; the white inner portion of the peel, the pith, is usually avoided due to its bitterness. The zest of a citrus fruit, typically lemon or an orange, can also be soaked in water in a coffee filter, and drunk.


Citrus juice also has medical uses; lemon juice is used to relieve the pain of bee stings. Oranges were historically used for their high content of vitamin C, which prevents scurvy. Scurvy is caused by vitamin C deficiency, and can be prevented by having 10 milligrams of vitamin C a day. An early sign of scurvy is fatigue. If ignored, later symptoms are bleeding and bruising easily. After consumption, the peel is sometimes used as a facial cleanser.Before the development of fermentation-based processes, lemons were the primary commercial source of citric acid.

List of citrus fruits

The genus Citrus has been suggested to originate in Southeast Asia. Prior to human cultivation, it consisted of just a few species, namely:

and 3 other Microcitrus

Hybrids and cultivars

Sorted by parentage. As each is the product of (at least) two parent species, they are listed multiple times.

Citrus maxima-based'
  • Amanatsu, natsumikan – Citrus × natsudaidai (C. maxima × unknown)
  • Cam sành (C. reticulata × C. × sinensis)
  • GrapefruitCitrus × paradisi (C. maxima × C. × sinensis)
  • Imperial Lemon (C. × limon × C. × paradisi)
  • Kinnow, Wilking (C. × nobilis × C. × deliciosa)
  • Kiyomi (C. sinensis × C. × unshiu)
  • Minneola Tangelo (C. reticulata × C. × paradisi)
  • Orangelo, Chironja (C. × paradisi × C. × sinensis)
  • Oroblanco, Sweetie (C. maxima × C. × paradisi)
  • Sweet OrangeCitrus × sinensis (probably C. maxima × C. × reticulata)
  • TangeloCitrus × tangelo (C. reticulata × C. maxima or C. × paradisi)
  • TangorCitrus × nobilis (C. reticulata × C. × sinensis)
  • Ugli (C. reticulata × C. maxima or C. × paradisi)

Citrus medica-based'

Citrus reticulata-based'


For hybrids with kumquats, see × Citrofortunella. For hybrids with the Trifoliate Orange, see citrange.


See also



  • (1961): Acclimatization of citrus fruits in the Mediterranean region. Agricultural History 35(1): 35-46.
  • (2003): What is Citrus? Taxonomic implications from a study of cp-DNA evolution in the tribe Citreae (Rutaceae subfamily Aurantioideae). Organisms Diversity & Evolution 3(1): 55-62. (HTML abstract)
  • (2000): Citrus phylogeny and genetic origin of important species as investigated by molecular markers. Theoretical and Applied Genetics 100(8): 1155-1166. (HTML abstract)

Further reading

  • (2002): Origin and history. In: (2002): Citrus. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 0-415-28491-0
  • (1985): Chapter 64. Rutaceae. In: Handbook of Seed Technology for Genebanks (Volume II: Compendium of Specific Germination Information and Test Recommendations). International Board for Plant Genetic Resources, Rome, Italy. HTML fulltext
  • (1991): FAO/IBPGR Technical Guidelines for the Safe Movement of Citrus Germplasm. FAO, IOCV, IPGRI. PDF fulltext
  • (1999): Descriptors for Citrus (Citrus spp.). PDF fulltext
  • (2005): Purdue Universitymarker Tropical Horticulture Lecture 32: Citrus
  • (1995): RFLP analysis of cytoplasmic and nuclear genomes used for citrus taxonomy. In: Mandarines - développements scientifiques récents, résumés oraux et posters: 12-13. CIRAD-FLHOR, San Nicolao, France. HTML abstract
  • (2000): Citrus, Proceedings of a regional workshop on disease management of banana and citrus through the use of disease-free planting materials held in Davao City, Philippines, 14-16 October 1998. INIBAP. PDF fulltext
  • (2005): Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden.
  • (1967-1989): The Citrus Industry. HTML fulltext of Vol. 1, 2, & Vol. 5, Chapter 5

External links

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