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 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 hybrids, 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 oranges, grapefruit, lemons, some limes, and some tangerines.
Recent research has suggested that the closely related genus Fortunella (kumquats), and perhaps also Poncirus and the Australian Microcitrus and Eremocitrus, should be included in Citrus. In fact, most botanists now classify Microcitrus and Eremocitrus as part of the genus Citrus.
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 vesicles. 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 hybridise 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 usually never exposed to cool enough conditions to develop a mature colour. If they are left in a cool place over winter, the fruits will actually change to a yellow colour. Many citrus fruits are picked while still green, and ripened while in transit to supermarkets.
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).
The trees do best in a consistently sunny, humid environment with fertile soil and adequate rainfall or irrigation. Older 'abandoned' Citrus in low valleyland 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/understory 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 States, and parts of South America. In the United States, Florida, California, Arizona, and Texas are major producers, while smaller plantings are present in other Sun Belt states.
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, limes and lemons should not be grown, since they are more sensitive to winter cold than other citrus fruits. Hybrids with kumquats (× Citrofortunella) have good cold resistance.
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), or the Arctiidae Hypercompe scribonia (Giant Leopard Moth), H. eridanus, H. icasia and H. indecisa.
|Top Ten Citrus Producers — 2005|
|Country||Production (Int $1000)||Footnote||Production (MT)||Footnote|
|No symbol = official figure,F = FAO estimate, * = Unofficial figure, C = Calculated figure;|
Production in Int $1000 have been calculated based on 1999-2001 international prices
Source: Food And Agricultural Organization of United Nations: Economic And Social Department: The Statistical Devision
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. 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. 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.
The genus Citrus has been suggested to originate in Southeast Asia. Prior to human cultivation, it consisted of just a few species:
Kumquats are in the genus Fortunella.