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Citrus limon (L.) Burm.f. 1768
pronounced: SIT-rus LEE-mon
(Rutaceae – the lemon family)
common name: Lemon
Citrus is the ancient Latin name for the citrus tree; limon is a Middle English word that was adopted from Old French, which received it from the Arabic words laymun or limun, which in turn came from the Persian.
The original home of the lemon is not known for certain, although it is thought to have come from north-western India. It appears to have been introduced into southern Italy by 200 AD, and to have been cultivated in Iraq and Egypt by 700 AD. It reached Sicily before the year 1000, and China some time between 760 and 1297. Arabs distributed it widely in the Mediterranean region between 1000 and 1150. Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to the New World in 1493. Spanish conquest there helped spread the lemon. It was originally used medicinally†, and only much later for cooking and flavouring.
The true lemon tree reaches 3–6 m in height, and usually has sharp thorns on the twigs. The alternate leaves, reddish when young, become dark green above and light green below. They are oblong, elliptic or long-ovate, 6–11 cm long, finely toothed, with slender wings on the petioles. The mildly fragrant flowers are sometimes solitary, or there may be 2 or more clustered in the leaf axils. Buds are reddish; the open flowers have 4 or 5 petals 2 cm long, white on the upper surface (inside), purplish beneath (outside), and 20–40 more-or-less united stamens with yellow anthers. The fruit is oval with a nipple-like protuberance at the apex, and 7–12 cm long. The peel is usually light yellow, although some lemons are variegated with longitudinal stripes of green and yellow or white; it is aromatic, dotted with oil glands, and is usually 6–10 mm thick. Inside, the pulp is pale yellow, in 8–10 segments, juicy and acid. Some fruits are seedless, but most have at least a few seeds, ellipsoid or ovate in shape, pointed, smooth, a little under 1 cm long, and white inside.
The wood of the lemon is highly regarded by many woodturners, being hard, close-grained, and with a finish like ivory. White chessmen are sometimes made from it.
The lemon has become naturalized and grows wild in parts of tropical and sub-tropical Australia. This tree is known as the ‘bush lemon’, and tends to have a much more vigorous growth of branches and leaves than the lemon trees grown commercially. The fruits also generally have a much thicker skin than the commercial varieties. The fruits also maintain the true lemon flavour, although they are seldom as juicy, no doubt due to the less favourable growing conditions. The White Cockatoos are particularly fond of lemon seeds: they will bore into almost mature fruits to extract the seeds, and drop the fruits on the ground beneath the tree. I have seen bush lemon trees completely denuded of their fruit in a single night. The bush lemon tree is often used as a root-stock in citrus orchards.
In the USA, lemons are grown extensively in California, Florida and Arizona, and exported world-wide. Foreign competition has become more intense in later years, and over-production has led to many American lemon groves being grubbed out, or the trees topworked‡ to oranges. Among the world’s leading lemon growers and exporters are Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, South Africa and Australia.
The lemon tree is a great favourite with moth and butterfly larvae, including:
• the Emperor Moth Syntherata janetta;
• the Tomato Grub Helicoverpa armigera;
• the Twig Looper Ectropis excursaria;
• the Yellow Peach Moth Conogethes punctiferalis;
• the Carob Moth Ectomyelois ceratoniae;
• the Light Brown Apple Moth Epiphyas postvittana;
• the Pecan Stem Girdler Maroga melanostigma;
• the Citrus Leafminer Phyllocnistis citrella;
• the Pink Scavenger Pyroderces rileyi;
• the Ailanthus Leaf Roller Psorosticha zizyphi ;
• the Gardenia Bee Hawk Cephonodes kingii;
• the Citrus Swallowtail Butterfly Papilio aegeus;
• the Dainty Swallowtail Papilio anactus;
• the Fuscus Swallowtail Papilio fuscus; and
• the Citrus Flower Moth Prays nephelomima.
† In 1747 James Lind first experimented with the use of lemon juice to prevent scurvy in seamen on long voyages
‡ whereby a citrus tree has part or all of its canopy removed, and a new variety grafted or budded on to the old stock
Photographs taken in Picnic Bay 2009-2011
Page last updated 14th December 2017