Trifoliate Orange – Identification
Q: Walking in the woods a few days ago I found a small rangy tree with which I’m not familiar. It has a small yellow fruit about the size of a golf ball. When cut open it looks like citrus fruit of some type and smells like a lemon. The leaves have three dark green, soft leaflets and the limbs have long thorns.
Q: I have an odd tree that is about 15 feet tall right now. The leaves are about 2 inches long by 3/4 inch wide. It has thick thorns that are about 2 inches long. The fruit I picked is yellow; fuzzy like a peach and 5 1/2 inches around. It has sweet aroma.
A: These great descriptions make the plant easy to identify. It’s a trifoliate orange, Poncirus trifoliata. Also known as the Japanese Bitter Orange, it is a close relative of citrus plants. It is native of China and will survive temperatures as low as five degrees. The fruit is inedible due to the presence of a bitter oil called ponciridin.
Some say you can make good lemonade by mixing the juice of one fruit with a barrel of water and a barrel of sugar!
‘Flying Dragon’ is a dwarf form of trifoliate orange. Some brave gardeners grow it as a unique ornamental shrub. It is often used as an understock onto which commercial citrus species are grafted to yield more cold-hardy plants.