A clementine is the fruit of a variety of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), named in 1902. A clementine is an oblate, medium-sized citrus fruit. The exterior is a deep orange colour with a smooth, glossy appearance. Clementines separate easily into eight to fourteen juicy segments. They are very easy to peel, like a tangerine, but lack the tangerine's sourness and seeds.
The traditional story is that it was "originally an accidental hybrid said to have been discovered by Father Clément Rodier in the garden of his orphanage in Misserghin, Algeria." However, there are claims it originated in China much earlier. James Saunt writes: "Some authorities believe it is virtually identical to the variety known as the Canton mandarin widely grown in Guangxi and Guangdong Provinces in China." In Arabic, it is called "Shaifhirboush".
The Clementine is not always distinguished from other varieties of mandarin oranges: in German, it is generally referred to as "Mandarine". However, it should not be confused with similar fruit such as the satsuma, which is another name for the Japanese mikan, and is another popular variety. The clementine is occasionally referred to as Algerian tangerine.
This variety was introduced into California commercial agriculture in 1914, though it was grown at the Citrus Research Center at the University of California, Riverside as early as 1909. Clementines, usually grown in Morocco and Spain, have been available in Europe for many years. A market for them in the United States was created recently, when the harsh 1997 winter in Florida devastated domestic orange production, increasing prices and decreasing availability. California clementines are available from mid-November through January; this availability has them referred to in some areas as "Christmas Oranges".
Clementines lose their desirable seedless characteristic when bees cross-pollinate them with other fruit. In early 2006 large growers such as Paramount Citrus in California threatened to sue local beekeepers for their bees' trespass into clementine crop land. Clementines are typically shipped in small wooden or cardboard boxes.
As with all fruit, the word "clementine" can also refer to the tree.