Decorative lemon trees

Limoni amalfitanum With the kumquats, the Bitter orange or Seville orange is the most hardy of decorative citrus trees, beautiful dark ...

Limoni amalfitanum
With the kumquats, the Bitter orange or Seville orange is the most hardy of decorative citrus trees, beautiful dark green leaves transforming into Christmas trees covered with orange fruit from December to March. Joy! Pomelos, worth another article, are in my opinion the most fascinating decorative citrus that can be grown in Portugal. Yet, the oldest decorative citrus variety with the greatest diversity in European nurseries is the Citron (not always easy to grow) - and lemon trees whose fruit ripen later and stay longer on the tree. Late fruit is an advantage for us because it is less susceptible to the fruit fly.

History : why we have our lemons

Everything suggests that in Greco-Roman antiquity, presumably when the Romans invaded the Middle East and Egypt, the lemon tree became a decorative tree. Trees with spindle shaped upward facing fruit are shown on frescoes in Pompei. It is not yet known what these lemons tasted like, whether they were sweet or sour. For it is only later, at around the 10th century, that the lemon tree became a source of sour fruit juice. The Salerno Medical School recommended using lemons against scurvy. The Republic of Amalfi, whose boats made the long journey to Byzantium, made using lemons mandatory on its ships. The southern coast of Italy and the Tunisian coast became covered with lemon groves. From these primitive plantations there remain to this day,remarkable lemons: “Limone di Rocca Imperiale” (an aromatic bomb), “di Gargano”. Presumably the same plantations existed with the Byzantines.

The lemon is a citrus fruit with a poly-embryon seed that comes true from seed. Mutations that allow selection of new varieties, often with small singularities, are either micro-mutations on the tree or rare inter-breeding. It is likely that the increase in use of lemon trees for sour juice, caused a renewal of interest in the decorative lemon trees, in the Near East, Egypt (where it is commonly used in cooking since the 13th century for its juice and confit in brine) and along our coasts.

Where to find plants to buy ?

Not surprisingly, the only cultivar of decorative lemon trees that can grow in apartments : The « Pavlovsky lemon » is a Russian lemon tree that originated in Anatolia according to Peter Nahon. The “Pavlovský” lemon tree can be found at http://exoticfruitplants.eu

Here, we can grow decorative lemon trees outside.The main source for healthy trees in Europe is the Oscar Tintori nursery with a breathtaking catalogue and quality plants. http://www.oscartintori.it/elencodellevarieta.php. The garden center Espaço Sudoeste with Bruno Pedroso (Vila Nova de Milfontes) regularly imports plants from the Tintori nursery.

Tel 283 996 159

Which to choose ?

Among the strong fruiting varieties that are now used in cooking you can find the Chinese “Meyer” variety (toast + shrimp + mayonnaise with Meyer lemon juice is a Florida specialty), and the American "Ponderosa" with very large sour juicy fruit.

Cultivars with very large fruit include the “Lipo”, the “Nine-pounder”, “Borneo”.... “Amalphitanum” – an ornamental with enormous fruit - and among the citron hybrids the Marocan lemon “Bitrouni”.

Here are a few original and pretty varieties: the variegated varieties, the ridged varieties (such as the “Caniculata”), the piriform, the digitated, the grainy skinned (such as "Spatafora"), the Kulu with the shape of a citron, the “Carrubaro” with fruit that grows in bunches, blood varieties, red varieties “Limone Rosso”, etc.

The “Feminello Zagara Blanca” has a sour fruit and beautiful white flowers like the “Cerza”.

There are small-fruited cultivars which are unfortunately not heavy fruiters, which is why potted plant growers prefer types such as Limone Toscano with medium sized fruit that sets quickly and is prolific.

How to prune decorative lemon trees ?

All of these trees stay small, you can either trim them in geometric shapes or prune them to lighten them and horizontalise the branches as in Japan (beautiful!) or as in Italy, espaliate them 30cm from a wall, or as the Neapolitans do, use them as a pergola tree. You should always remove the suckers (the strong vertical shoots that grow on the structural branches) throughout the growing season, These greedy branches don't bear fruit and unnecessarily suck the sap. An infestation of cochineal can result from being too close to a wall, feel free to give the tree space. Decorative lemons, like all citrus, do not like the wind, especially not a cold wind, but they don't like to stifle either - they need air circulation, so always leave a good space between a wall and the tree.

The varieties selected for their juice and planted as field crops include « Lisboa », « Fino », the « Femminelli », « Eureka », « Verna » and even « Lunario » and the « 4 seasons ». They are trees that are generally larger than the decoratives though some can be considered decorative.

- The « Interdonato » (the albedo is sweet) with its pointy tip is something to see.

- The « Genoa » (like the French Menton lemon) are quite hardy and worth trying in colder climates.
Decorative and useful

Decorative lemons without the priority for juice are less rich in pulp, which does not prevent their use in cooking, especially to preserve them in sugar or salt, to dry the zests and use them in herbal teas, to make jams or lemon curd or to braise them in gravy as Chef Vincent Farges from the Fortaleza do Guincho Restaurant in Cascais does so well with fluted lemons, an enthusiastic lemon chef – a treat not to miss.

More fascinating stories can be found in Helena Attlee’s new book

The Land Where Lemons Grow” The story of Italy and its citrus fruit.

Jean-Paul Brigand & Ann Kenny

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