Information About Trifoliate Orange Tree

Information About Trifoliate Orange Tree

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Trifoliate Orange Uses: Learn About The Flying Dragon Orange Tree

By Amy Grant

The name alone has me hooked - Flying Dragon bitter orange tree. A unique name to go with a unique appearance, but what is a flying dragon orange tree and what, if any, are trifoliate orange uses? Read this article to learn more.

Do Orange Trees Have Thorns?

Like all citrus, sweet oranges (Citrus sinensis) often have branches studded with thorns. On some trees, they’re few, small and blunt. On others, such as the blood orange ‘Tarocco,’ they can be needle-sharp and long enough to scar the fruit. To learn why they’re there, if they’ll go away and what to do if they don’t, continue reading!

What Exactly Are Thorns?

Most of us associate thorns with roses, not orange trees. But the botanical reality is that rose bushes have prickles, tiny spines that sprout from their stem tissue. An orange tree’s thorns are highly modified twigs. They simply taper to points instead of continuing to branch out.

Individual thorns emerge from the same leaf axils where the flower buds form. The tree’s vascular system nourishes thorns just like the rest of its living tissues, because they have a job to do.

Why Do Orange Trees Need Thorns?

Mother Nature has equipped orange trees with thorns to protect them from hungry predators. Any leaf-munching animal is likely to turn down a second helping after biting into a tree that bites back.

And, because the leaf eaters usually prefer the tender leaves of young, small orange trees, thorn production gradually decreases as the trees get older, bigger and stronger.

Why Thornless Orange Cultivars Sometime Sprout Thorns

Commercial growers have gone to great lengths to develop thornless sweet orange cultivars, including:

  • ‘Delta’ Valencia oranges
  • ‘Atwood’ navel oranges
  • ‘Moro’ and ‘Sanguinello’ blood oranges

Like all sweet oranges, thornless cultivars are reliably hardy in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 through 11. But many growers improve their cold tolerance by budding them on to the rootstock of trifoliate oranges (Citrus trifoliata), extremely thorny trees hardy to USDA zone 6.

Oranges budded onto this rootstock often develop thorny branches. They’re also prone to having trifoliate orange suckers sprout around their roots. Unless removed, the suckers form an impenetrable thicket that robs the budded tree of its water and soil nutrients.

Removing Orange Tree Thorns

While removing its suckers is essential to your orange tree’s health, removing its thorns is optional. Most trees simply outgrow them, but if yours hasn’t and they’re interfering with its care or harvesting, prune away!

Except for the chance of getting jabbed, it’s no different from pruning any unwanted branches. Just wear heavy duty garden gloves (preferably forearm length). And place a tarp under the tree to catch the fallen thorns for easy, jab-free disposal.

Citrus Species, Japanese Hardy Orange, Bitter Orange

Family: Rutaceae (roo-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Citrus (SIT-rus) (Info)
Species: trifoliata (try-foh-lee-AY-tuh) (Info)
Synonym:Aegle sepiaria
Synonym:Bilacus trifoliata
Synonym:Citrus trifolia
Synonym:Citrus triptera
Synonym:Poncirus trifoliata


Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs Water regularly do not overwater

Sun Exposure:


Foliage Color:




USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 °C (-10 °F)

USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 °C (-5 °F)

USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 °C (0 °F)

USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 °C (5 °F)

USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 °C (10 °F)

USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 °C (15 °F)

USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 °C (20 °F)

USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 °C (25 °F)

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone

Can be grown as an annual


Plant has spines or sharp edges use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Bloom Time:

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

Soil pH requirements:

Patent Information:

Propagation Methods:

From semi-hardwood cuttings

From seed sow indoors before last frost

Seed Collecting:

Allow unblemished fruit to ripen clean and dry seeds

Seed does not store well sow as soon as possible


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania

North Augusta, South Carolina

North Charleston, South Carolina

Gardeners' Notes:

On Jan 18, 2016, nothingfails from YAMBOL UPPER THRACE,
Bulgaria (Zone 7b) wrote:

A big disappointment. I planted it thinking its blossoms would have the same scent as regular oranges but they had no smell. Had to dig it out and replant bu it did not survive. No problems with hardiness but have not had lower thsn minus 13C while I had it.

On May 3, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

An easy, exotic-looking shrub/tree. The 3" green thorns are vicious but ornamental year round. Flowers, foliage, and fruit are all attractive. In the south, this can become a small tree to 25'.

The fruits are packed with seeds, leaving little room for pulp. But I suppose the rind is what makes good marmalade.

Best in full sun, but it tolerates light shade. In the south, this is often a tree of woodland edges and understory.

I don't see winter dieback here in Boston Z6a, and suspect that it's hardy into Z5, as some sources state. The plants I see here don't seem to get over about 8' tall.

In the southeastern US, this has naturalized locally from east Texas and Arkansas to Pennsylvania and Florida, and it's been declared ecologicall. read more y invasive by Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

On May 2, 2014, Hikaro_Takayama from Fayetteville, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

I have 2 P. trifoliata plants that I got in 2006 & 2008, and they both survived a near-record low of -15 degrees this past winter with little or no damage.

One thing I noticed was that it seems that the place of origin seems to slightly affect the hardiness: the sapling I got in 2006 came from in Arlington, TN seems to be generally hardier (no damage vs tips of new growth killed) and leafs out earlier than the one I purchased from a nusery in New Bern, NC.

Still, definitely an interesting specimen plant for colder climes.

On Nov 25, 2012, imax71 from Underwood-Petersville, AL wrote:

I have had my plant for about 12 years now. Last year was the first year it had little flowers on it. This year it produced the little bitter oranges. You have to have patience, I didn't think the little "oranges" would ever grow.
It is a tough plant also. I have moved the plant 3-4 times and it just keeps on growing.

On Apr 30, 2012, Skid64 from Hamilton,
Canada wrote:

I live just north of the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. I purchased a small seedling, about 1' 1/2 high, about three years ago, the plant is now 4' and doing quite well. I planted it in a wind protected area to avoid "winter" burn. I have yet to have seen any blossoms, but that is likely more due to the age of the plant.

On Feb 23, 2012, farmgirl3 from Saxon, SC wrote:

I found this plant growing in an old 1700's homestead - log cabin and everything, deep in the woods here in upstate SC. There were several large shrubs about 10 ft tall with seedlings all around the bottoms. I dug several seedlings and transplanted them to an area of my yard that I had had trouble with children coming through to play on our dock. In no time i had an impenetrable hedge. I also took several of the exquisitely perfumed fruit and dried them for use in a fall potpourri mix. At the old homestead where I had gathered my treasures, the only invasiveness I saw was the seedlings under the parent shrubs. I walked a couple of more miles in these woods and saw no more hardy orange trees which makes me think they are not THAT invasive around here. Perhaps these settlers planted these as. read more a living fence. or maybe they are not that old as the very last people living in that homestead were there in the 1930's. I found several unique plants around that log cabin. some type of beautiberry looking plant, a dwarf looking prickly pear with no thorns, and some type of apple.

On Oct 31, 2011, CrispyCritter from Clayton, GA wrote:

I found one these growing on a street corner in the city where I live in North Georgia. It was about 10 feet tall and appeared healthy.
Being a deciduous tree, unlike most citrus, it was changing colors and loosing leaves here the last weekend of October. A few dozen fruit were hanging on the partially bare branches.

I took home a few of the fruit to study, here are my impressions:

1. ping pong ball size fruit have slightly fuzzy surface.
2. fruit has a floral/citrusy unique scent.
3. Each fruit cut open had an average of 30 seeds (most of the interior of the fruit)
4. Gummy stuff in peel sticks to knives, hard to clean off.
5. Juice and fleshy pretty scanty.
6. Taste- not as vomit inducingly horrible as I've hear. read more d- tastes like a strong bitter grapefruit/lemon flavor. Still, I wouldn't volunteer to just sit and eat a fruit out of hand, but probably useful as a lemon substitute.

I collect some fruit from under a hardy orange tree in Wichita, Kansas this fall. The tree, actually a shrub, about 8 feet tall and a little wider. I live 100 miles further north, on the border of zones 5-6, so I don't know it they will survive winters here. But doing so well where they were, I think there is a good chance of them surviving here. There is no significant change in altitude.
My goal is to cross these with some of the hybrids of the hardy orange and better flavered citris. Many such F1 hybrids exist but are said not to be as hardy, and not particularly good flavored.

On Apr 5, 2009, debnes_dfw_tx from Fort Worth, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I have had this plant in the ground in my back yard for a few years now. Yes, it does have gnarley thorns on it, but mine grows straight up and we are careful when passing. It is in full sun for only a few hours each day, so I haven't seen any flowers on it yet. The foliage is filling out very well already, and its only the 5th of April.

I bought this plant because it was reported to be a Texas native citrus, and wanted a host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. For them it is working well. I have raised several butterflies from it so far. I hear the fruit are not very tasty, in fact they are bitter.

All in all, this plant is a great host, and would make a great barrier. The vendor who sold it to me said that a lady was having trouble with kids riding. read more their bikes through her property and planted a row of them. Needless to say it fixed the problem. If looked after and trimmed up in fall, (with heavy long sleeves and gloves on, of course) this is a very nice member to have in my butterfly host garden. I am glad I have it!

On Jan 24, 2009, wehrlebird from Atlanta, GA wrote:

I live in Atlanta, Ga, and have worked as a land surveyor since 1993. I have seen this plant growing wild all over the Atlanta area. I don't see it very often, but when I do, it is always growing in the woods, and I assumed it was a native plant.

I have some property about an hour East of Atlanta, and 2 years ago I discovered it growing fairly widely in the woods there. In all cases but one, I have seen it growing only as a single small shrub. However, one huge plant has many tiny offspring growing below it, but nothing impenetrable like a black berry thicket. The fruit here is sour, but also sort of semi sweet and perfumey. This year, I gathered the fruit and made a very tasty "lemonade" as did another commenter, as well as using it on fish. Next year I think I'll tr. read more y something like "lemon meringue pie" or "lemon squares". I have also read that it makes a very good marmalade.

The previous commenter was right about there being something gummy or slippery in the peel or pith though.

I have read that in the UK, they make hedges with it. Perhaps its vicious thorns deters animals.

On Feb 11, 2008, ridge_farmer from La Fayette, GA wrote:

This plant is a noxious weed - one that I have been fighting for years. Wildlife transfer seed via digestion resulting in new plants in pastures and in the edges of wooded areas. Amazingly enough, this weekend I found a website for a nursery within 100 miles of my farm offering these weeds for sale at $10 each. I understand the value of this plant as rootstock and maybe as an ornamental (they certainly are strange looking) - but if you plant one, please eliminate the fruit as it ripens to avoid wild propagation.

On Jan 4, 2006, Phrederica_VA from Montpelier, VA wrote:

I have actually taken the time to juice some of the little fruits. It is a royal pain, but the juice was delicious when made into a "lemonade". It tasted like a cross between lemon and grapefruit. There's something gummy in the peel that makes a huge mess of juicers and knives, though.

My trees are over 10' tall and are growing at over 12" per year still, so I'm not sure how tall they'll get in my central Virginia area. I love this plant. Yes, the thorns are evil, but the overall shape is nice and with the very pretty bark, and the beauty of the thorns, it's a lovely small tree even in winter. I have pruned off some of the lower branches each winter to make a tree shape otherwise you'll have a bush. The foliage is also beautiful, tri-leaved and shiny. I get a few se. read more edlings every year as volunteers, so if you want to propogate it, at least in my area, just dig up a few and transplant them. I originally got this plant from my mother-in-law, who got it from her father, who got it from a Chinese embassy representative in the early 1900's. It was very rare at that time. The only problem that I've had is that this year, from three trees about 10 years old, I had about three 5-gallon buckets of fruit to clean up!

Regarding the invasive nature of this plant: I have no problems in Virginia with it. I have had mine for 15 years now (I'm updating my previous entry). I get many seedlings right below the tree which are quite manageable since they're in a small area. However, I have seen no signs of any wildlife in my area eating the fruits, nor have I found any seedlings anywhere that were unexpected. I am also concerned about invasive non-natives and am waging war on two fronts against Vinca minor and Creeping Charlie, so I understand the other person's concern.

On Mar 11, 2005, Marylyn_TX from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

We have several of these outside our windows. They are evidently ungrafted root stock ("Flying Dragon") because they do not get any blooms or fruit, and very few leaves. They just grow tall and look menacing.

On Aug 27, 2004, 1115rs from Pittstown, NJ wrote:

I am a Landscaper. A customer has one of these plants. 7-8feet tall 4 feet in diameter. It is in Bridgewater, NJ. One of its wicked thorns went right through my finger and then came back out without breaking off. We need to market these plant I notice that the Deer do not go near it. The fruit tastes terrible. Thats all.

On Mar 25, 2004, timbalo from Columbia, SC wrote:

This is a very hardy and fast-growing plant. It's also a prolific producer of bitter citrus fruit about 1-1/2" in diameter. In the 3 years since its arrival in our yard, our poncirus has grown about 12 inches per year and is now just over 6 feet tall. Many small (1-inch) white flowers in spring attract bees. Wicked thorns are up to 2 inches long. Trunk and stems are green when newly developed, then become gray with age.We don't have deer in our neighbborhood, but I can't imagine anything that bleeds trying to chew on this plant.

On Mar 4, 2004, Bairie from Corpus Christi, TX (Zone 10a) wrote:

There are many sour (or bitter) orange trees in Corpus Christi in people's yards. Most of these are results of a hard freeze about 18 years ago that froze grafted orange trees to the ground, and the sour orange trees came up from the rootstock. They are not grown commercially here as they are in some places (such as in subtropical Lower Rio Grande Valley where nurseries grow them for rootstock). Sour orange trees are easily grown from seeds. Seeds should be taken from slightly overripe fruit, cleaned and dried, then planted in a pot in early spring. They are evergreen and in warm climates do well outside.

Search the internet for "sour orange" + recipes and you will find recipes for marmalade, marinades, and desserts. Leaves and flowers can be used to make tea.

On Feb 29, 2004, saya from Heerlen,
Netherlands (Zone 8b) wrote:

A Hardy Orange?

Q. Mike: When I was a horticulture student at the Barnes Foundation (in the Philadelphia suburbs) I picked up a couple of Hardy Oranges from a specimen they had there. I successfully started the seeds, grew the plants in pots for years and then planted one outside. This tree is gorgeous. Last year I got my first fruit, and this year, there are over a hundred fruits. I'm moving to Asheville North Carolina next spring and I'd like to take some seed with me to plant at my new place. I tried saving some seeds last season but they dried out. Short of planting them now in pots, which I'd rather not do, is there a way to preserve the seeds and keep them viable for future plantings? Thanks!

    ----Ron just north of Morgantown, PA.

A.'Hardy orange' sure sounded like an oxymoron to me, as I "know' that citrus fruits come from plants that thrive where it don't never freeze—like down in Southern California, and the hot parts of Arizona, Texas and Florida. But I've also heard other people talk about 'hardy oranges' and 'hardy citrus', so I turned to our frequently-relied-upon fruit expert Dr. Lee Reich, who—as usual—smartened me up on the subject.

"Hardy orange," explains Lee, "is the common name for a plant--Poncirus trifoliate--which is hardy outdoors, even north of Philly—down to USDA Zone 5 perhaps. Also known as 'Trifoliate orange', it's not a true citrus, like lemons and limes , but it is a citrus relative and it's frequently used as a rootstock for grafted citrus trees because of its exceptional hardiness. It even looks like an orange tree in fruit, leaf, and flower. Unfortunately, the fruit is barely edible."

So you can grow a tree that looks like an orange tree and produces fruits that look like oranges, but you can't actually eat them.

"Well, they're not poisonous," says Lee. "The fruits have a taste that's vaguely reminiscent of an orange, but bitter. Some people use the fruits to make marmalade, but that may just prove the old theory that any fruit tastes good if you add enough sugar to it. But the tree is fragrant—both the flowers and the fruits have a wonderful scent.

"There's a also a variety called "Flying Dragon" that is awesomely ornamental," adds Lee. "It has very attractive green fruit, the stems swirl around in a corkscrew shape, and it has amazing 'recurved' thorns. The whole plant really looks 'dragonish'."

So—will our listener's hardy orange come tree from seed?

"Probably", says Lee. "But he has to plant the seed immediately, while it's still fresh—and I mean right out of the fruit. When the fruit is ripe, he should pick some and plant the seeds in a light-soil-free mix in small pots. As you know, you can tell citrus is ripe when the fruit comes easily off the branch with a gentle tug."

"Now," adds Lee, "hardy orange is a fun plant to grow, but there is also a category called 'hardy citrus': Poncirus hybridized with other citrus and citrus relatives (like kumquat, which is also not technically a true citrus) to make hardier, more edible plants. I list a few of these in the citrus section of my book "Grow Fruit Naturally" (The Taunton Press 2012), like the Citrange—a cross between a hardy orange and a true sweet orange that tastes like a slightly tart true orange. It's hardy down to 5 or 10 degrees F., but you still probably couldn't grow them outdoors for reliable fruit north of Georgia. Winter hardiness is one thing, but you also need a long growing season to get fruit that you can eat.

"You need to choose your plants carefully if you want to try and grow edible citrus outdoors outside of its normal range," stresses Lee. "The trees can be real backyard fun, and it's nice to grow your own fruit—but there's a reason these plants are uncommon.

"However," he adds, "growing citrus in pots that can be brought indoors for winter is a whole other story that opens up many possibilities for really tasty fruits. You can keep the plants to a workable size by repotting them and trimming back the roots every few years just be sure the plant doesn't get more than three times taller than the height of the pot. The best winter situation is bright light, but in a somewhat cool room—that way you give the plants a little rest, which promotes stockier growth."

Orange Varieties

The sweet orange isn’t found in the wild. It is a hybrid, though of which two types there is much speculation. Most sources seem to think it’s a union between the pomelo and the mandarin. Also, there is confusion that surrounds the origin of cultivation. But, it’s assumed to have first grown in Asia, India, and China.

Types of Oranges

There are two fundamental categories of orange: the bitter orange and the sweet orange.

Sweet Orange Varieties

Sweet orange is separated into four classes, each one with distinct features:

Common orange – There are numerous varieties of common orange, and it’s vastly grown. The most familiar varieties of common oranges are hart’s Tardiff Valencia, Hamlin, and Valencia. Though there are several other types.

Pigmented or blood orange – The blood orange consists of two types: the deep blood orange and the light blood orange. Blood oranges are an organic mutation of C. High amounts of anthocyanin give the fruit its great red hue. Varieties of oranges in the blood orange category include Moro, Maltese, Tarocco, and Scarlet Navel.

Navel orange – The navel orange is the most significant commercial import. We know it as the most popular orange sold. Of navel oranges, the most common types are dream navel, California Navel, Late navel, Cara Cara, Bahia, and Washington.

Acid-less orange – These oranges, also known as sweet oranges, have a little acid and a little flavor. Acid-less oranges are referred to as early season fruit. The small number of acid safeguards against spoilage, making them unsuitable for juicing.

Bitter Orange Varieties

Of the bitter oranges, there are C. Aurantium, Seville orange, and Bergamot orange.

Trifoliate orange – Trifoliate works as rootstock for sweet oranges. Trifoliate oranges carry downy fruit and are used to make jam. They are native to Korea and China.

Wow! As you can see, there are a host of oranges out there. There has to be an orange type just for you. If you want more information on the various types of orange trees in Tampa, call your local tree specialist.

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