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Trifoliate Orange


October 2016

 QuestionI spotted a wild fruit growing in the woods.  It is about the same size as a small lime.  It looks like a lime, smells like a lime, and even tastes like a lime only bitter.  These fruits (maybe 6 –8) were on a vine covered with about 1 inch thorns, but there were no leaves.  I have Googled and checked everything I have and can’t find out what it is.  I removed the seeds to try to grow one.  It also left a very sticky substance on my fingers which I finally had to resort to nail polish remover to get it off my fingers and nails.  


The plant is not a vine but a small tree/ large bush called trifoliate orange--Poncirus trifoliata. The fruits are edible but quite bitter and the rind does have a very sticky gummy substance.  The plants are in the same family as citrus, but they have their own genus. It is commonly called hardy orange since it is often the closest we can get to a hardy citrus. In Florida citrus breeders sometimes use trifoliate orange as a rootstalk to improve winter hardiness in their other citrus plants.  It has sweet-smelling, showy white flowers in the spring and then the plant can be covered in these yellowish orange fruits in late summer/fall. It is considered an invasive plant in some states, as it often forms a grove of plants when left untended.  The thorns are pretty impressive, especially after it drops its leaves in the fall. It grows readily from seed, but the seed must go through a cool, moist storage period called stratification.  Just place the seeds in a plastic bag with moist potting soil in your refrigerator for 3 months then pot them up.  Chances are good that you will have great germination rates. Plant the plants in full sun to partial shade, away from heavy traffic areas to avoid coming in contact with the thorns. The fruit is edible, but they tend to contain more seeds than pulp, and it takes quite a bit of sugar to overcome the bitter taste.  Some gardeners do make marmalade from the fruit.  


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