Monday, July 20, 2015


I knew lemons and oranges and tangerines when I was growing up. They grew on similar looking trees and they developed from similar looking flowers that exuded a delicately sweet fragrance. They tasted good. I loved oranges and tangerines, and I enjoyed the sour taste of lemons.

For centuries oranges were a rarity. People who were lucky to have them would give them as treats to others, present them to the ill to remedy their sufferings and they would be grateful for the chance of tasting such succulent fruit. I ate oranges often as a child because they were grown in Aydın in the Aegean Region of Turkey where my family lived.

Lemon blossoms in May                                                        Orange blossoms in May

I did not really know that all citrus trees belong to the single genus Citrus in the family Rutaceae and they are interfertile which means they can interbreed. The number of natural species is unclear. All citrus species seem to be of hybrid origin. Natural and cultivated origin hybrids, including the most commercially sought citrus fruits of oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and some limes and tangerines, are believed to be derived from four ancestral species. Numerous hybrids, bud unions (graft budding) and cultivars have been produced and their taxonomy has become controversial, confusing and inconsistent. Different names have been given to varieties of the genus.


The name orange applies primarily to the sweet orange, Citrus sinensis. The orange tree is an evergreen, flowering tree, with an average height of 9 to 10 m. Its alternately arranged oval leaves are 4 to 10 cm long and have crenulate (finely notched) margins. “Although the sweet orange presents different sizes and shapes varying from spherical to oblong, it generally has ten segments (carpels) inside, and contains up to six seeds (or pips) and a porous white tissue called pith or more properly, mesocarp or albedo lines its rind. When unripe, the fruit is green. The grainy irregular rind of the ripe fruit can range from bright orange to yellow-orange, but frequently retains green patches or, under warm climate conditions, remains entirely green. Like all other citrus fruits, the sweet orange is non-climacteric (non-climacteric fruits do not continue to ripen after harvest). The Citrus sinensis is subdivided into four classes with distinct characteristics: common oranges, blood or pigmented oranges, navel oranges, and acidless oranges (”.

I never thought that this fruit of temperate climes could not be native to the Mediterranean region. The orange is unknown in the wild state. It is assumed to have originated in southern China, northeastern India, and perhaps southeastern Asia. Oranges have been grown for thousands of years and since the end of the1980s orange trees have been found to be the most cultivated fruit trees in the world.

I was not aware that ripe fruit and flowers can be found on the same tree.

We ate Jaffa oranges, which take their name from the city of Jaffa and navel oranges mostly. Navel oranges are called Washington in Turkey which may be due to the fact that they were first brought to Turkey to be planted in the year 1945 from the USA, albeit from California (these oranges were brought to Washington DC for the first time in 1870 and they were labeled ‘Washington’). Navel oranges are a favorite. A second fruit grows at the apex, the growing tip of these oranges, and it resembles the human navel.

Harvest times vary for oranges. Harvesting may start as early as end of October and continue until mid-winter to early spring. Navel oranges are gathered from November until January. They are available until spring.

                                                                     An orange tree at Heybeliada in Istanbul in the spring of 2014.

The word orange derives from the Sanskrit (in the Indo-Aryan language family) word for ‘orange tree’ (नारङ्ग nāraṅga), probably a loan word of Dravidian (a language family of about 70 languages) origin. The Sanskrit word reached European languages through Persian نارنگ (nārang) and its Arabic derivative نارنج (nāranj).

In Europe, citrus fruits were introduced to Italy by the crusaders in the 11th century. The sweet orange, however, was not known until the late 15th century or the beginnings of the 16th century until Italian and Portuguese merchants brought orange trees into the Mediterranean region. “As Portuguese merchants were presumably the first to introduce the sweet orange in Europe, in several modern Indo-European languages the fruit has been named after them. Some examples are Albanian portokall, Bulgarian портокал (portokal), Greek πορτοκάλι (portokali), Persian پرتقال (porteghal) and Romanian portocală’’. (

In Turkish the word for citrus is ‘narenciye’ and the word for orange is ‘portakal’.

The word orange entered Middle English from Old French and Anglo-Norman orenge. The earliest recorded use of the word in English is from the 13th century. The earliest use of the word in reference to the color is thought to be from the 16th century.

Spanish explorers introduced the sweet orange into the American continent. In Louisiana, oranges probably were introduced by French explorers.


Here is another thing I was surprised to find out: The origin of the lemon is unknown, though it is thought that lemons first grew in Assam, a region in Northeast India. Assam is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world. A study of the genetic origin of the lemon reported that it is a hybrid between sour orange and citron. I used to think that citron was just the French word for lemon. Citron is a citrus fruit botanically classified as Citrus medica.

The origin of the word lemon may be Middle Eastern from the Arabic laymūn or līmūn ليمون, and from the Persian līmūn لیمو, a generic term for citrus fruit, which could be a cognate of Sanskrit निम्ब (nimbū, ‘lime’).

                                                                                                  Lemon tree

Eureka kind lemons are the common supermarket lemons that produce fruit year round. Turkey is the main grower of lemons and tangerines in the Mediterranean region.


I did not know that tangerines are a type of orange. I also learned that while all tangerines are mandarins, not all mandarins are tangerines. I should have known better for in Turkish all tangerines are called ‘mandalina’ from the word mandarin I presume.

                                                                                                    Tangerine tree

These small and tasty oranges were first brought to England from China in 1805. The robes worn by public officials or mandarins in the Chinese empire of that time were deep orange and the form of Chinese spoken by public officials and other educated people in China was Mandarin. The oranges were dubbed a mandarin.

Tangerines are a specific type of citrus fruit within the mandarin grouping. In some areas of the world the mandarin grouping may be referred to as the tangerine grouping. The mandarin group of citrus fruits includes the cultivars clementines, satsumas, honey oranges and other citrus fruit in addition to tangerines. The botanical name for mandarins is C. reticulate. The tree is native to Southeast Asia. The fact that the first mandarins were shipped to Europe from the city of Tangiers in Morocco in 1841 gave rise to the name tangerine.

Fruits in the mandarin grouping have a distinctive thick rind that makes them easy to peel, especially if a person starts around the flower or stem end of the fruit. Here is another interesting fact that I learned: Citrus fruits are usually self-fertile (needing only a bee to move pollen within the same flower) or parthenocarpic (not needing pollination and therefore seedless, such as the satsuma)-(

There is so much information about citrus fruits. I believe it will be best for me to simply consume the fruits.




  1. Hi Beste - the citrus is an amazing genus isn't it. Fascinating information here ... I love them - but have rarely had an orange straight off a tree - if ever (perhaps!). I had a small lemon tree in South Africa in both houses .. and that was wonderful to be able to go out and pick a fruit.

    Lots of varieties now ... I remember when my father came back from London, via the train from Waterloo station, and he found Ugli fruit there ... a new one to us 'Englishers' recovering in a post war countryside ...

    Cheers Hilary

  2. Hello Hilary. I had to look up ugli-ugli fruit is a Jamaican form of tangelo, a citrus fruit created by hybridizing a grapefruit, an orange and a tangerine. I had not heard of it before!
    By the way, if it weren't for you guys a lot would not have been gained.
    Salut, Beste

  3. But wait, what's a clementine?
    I find it interesting that grapefruits are described here as a cross between grapefruits and pamplemousse; will have to investigate further...