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TREES, PLEASE: Lemons and Tangors and Bearss– Oh My!

By Robin Rivet.

Don’t groan about my pun. The “Wizard of Oz” was one of my favorite films, even if the famous “lions and tigers and bears” line wasn’t part of author L. Frank Baum’s original book. That memorable quote, written for the movie version in 1939, gained recognition as the classic film attained a near-cult status. There’s a lot more than meets the eye when it comes to facts about our legendary citrus, and that’s not fabled fiction.

How many citrus cultivars do you grow? Did you know the UC Riverside collection lists over 1000 varieties? Are you aware that grapefruits got their current name because they hung in clusters like grapes, yet they were originally called shaddocks? Or that the word “tangor” is derived from tangerine and orange? What about the variegated, pink-lemonade tree? It was cloned from a bud-sport discovered on a Eureka lemon in someone’s backyard. In essence, this translates to a genetic accident. Have you visited the deciduous, citrus rootstocks grown in Riverside? They are frost tough and very thorny. Ever seen an Etrog? It is a prized variety of citron used for sacred rituals in the Jewish faith. They are considered so valuable that a single fruit might sell for hundreds of dollars. The fact that so many cultures worldwide value and utilize citrus makes it difficult to imagine our world without them.

All lemons, tangerines and limes are flavorful, but my revered choices are unusual crosses. A favorite is the Cocktail “grapefruit”, which ironically was dismissed as unacceptable during its hybridization in the 1950’s; probably because it was quite seedy. It is a cross between a Siamese Sweet pummelo and a Frua mandarin, but it was never officially released by UC. It is suspected that an unknown nurseryman appropriated the scion and introduced the cultivar discreetly - since it was eventually tracked backwards through its DNA. No one has ever claimed its formal release. However, squeeze its richly-sweet juice during wintertime for an intoxicating breakfast treat, and you’ll wonder why not. The Valentine pummelo is another cherished hybrid. Part blood orange, part pummelo and part mandarin, it is pure citrus heaven with a thick, yellow, easy-peel rind, floral aroma, and raspberry-red flesh – rich with anthocyanin. It is meaty, flavorful and perfect to eat out of hand.

Deciduous Citrus Trees.

I suspect if you’re a citrus fan that you sometimes cook with citrus. Do you serve hors d’oeuvres using finger limes, bottle up limoncello, or crave blood(y) oranges? Perhaps you grow Mexican limes for home-made salsas, or prepare creamy hollandaise with Meyer-improved lemons hybridized from oranges in ancient China? Perhaps like our family, you are gratified to squeeze pitchers of rich-tasting, Page tangelo juice every Sunday morning for months, due to its highly productive fruit set. Citrus originated throughout Asia where their descendants continue to evolve. Japan recently shared the sumptuous Dekopan, and it’s coming soon to a market near you, under the registered name ‘®Sumo’- named for its signature topknot. Oh my!

Member Robin Rivet is an ISA Certified Arborist & City of La Mesa Environmental Commissioner – contact her:

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