In the Arboretum Today
by Alfredo Chiri
ETROG CITRON - Citron x citrus medica var. Ethrog - Rutaceae
Donated by: CRFG/Haluza. Planted in 1983 (r.f.-06)
Common names: Citron, Tidra, Begpoora, Limau susu, Som ma-nguâ,
Thank-yen, Kou-yuan, Manao ripon, Mak vo, chanh, Tipolo.
The Etrog citron is a small shrub, slow-growing, and it has stiff twigs with long thorns. The leaves are evergreen, lemon-scented. The white or purplish flowers in clusters are large and scented. Most of the flowers are perfect, but some could be male due to pistil abortion. The fruit is lemon-like with a shape that varies from oblong to oval, and the various shapes can occur in the same branch. The peel is yellow when fully ripe with a texture that can be smooth or bumpy, very thick and fleshy. The pulp color varies from pale-yellow to greenish and is divided into as
many as 20 segments, not very juicy, containing many seeds.
The citron's place of origin is unknown, but there are traces that this plant was present as far back as 4000 BC. In 301 AD the citron was considered a commercial food. Greeks introduced the citron by 200 BC to Palestine. By the Third Century it was introduced to Italy. During the Fourth Century invading barbarians destroyed almost all the citron trees, but those in Sardinia and Sicily survived. By the year 1003 the citron was commonly cultivated and for the next centuries was supplied to the Jews in Italy, France and Germany for their Feast of the Tabernacles (Sukkoth) ceremony .
The Spaniards probably brought to Florida the citron, among other citrus, but it possibly could have survived only in greenhouses. In 1880 the trees were introduced to California, but all perished due to severe cold. Today there are scattered small plantings of citron in Florida and California.
The main producing areas of citrons for food use are Sicily, Corsica and Crete in Europe; Puerto Rico, Brazil and other Caribbean islands in Central and South America.
The citron tree is highly sensitive to frost, and foliage and fruit are damaged by intense heat. Citrons grow in mostly all kinds of soils, but require good aeration. Citron trees are grown from cuttings taken from branches 2 to 4 years old. For quicker production the Etrog citron can be grafted or budded to lemon or grapefruit, but the fruits do not attain the size of those produced from cuttings.
Trees started from cuttings start to bear fruits when 3 years old, reaching peak production at 15 years and would die out in about 25 years.
The Etrog citron, to be acceptable when used for religious purposes, must not be budded or grafted. A Jewish Rabbi must supervise harvesting of the fruit. A perfectly unblemished fruit is rare and in the market can bring as much as $1000, but mostly the fruit wholesales for under $10.
When used as a food, the most important part of the citron is the peel. The candied peel is widely employed as an ingredient in fruitcake, plum pudding, sweet rolls and candy.