The leading acid citrus fruit, because of its very appealing color, odor and flavor, the lemon, Citrus limon Burm. f. (syns. C. limonium Risso, C. limonia Osbeck, C. medica var. limonium Brandis), is known in Italy as limone; in most Spanish-speaking areas as limón, limón agria, limón real, or limón francés; in German as limonen; in French as citrónnier; in Dutch as citroen. In Haiti, it is limon France; in Puerto Rico, limon amarillo. In the Netherlands Antilles, lamoentsji, or lamunchi, are locally applied to the lime, not to the lemon as strangers suppose. The lemon is not grown there.

Several lemon-like fruits are domestically or commercially regarded as lemons wherever they are grown and, accordingly, must be discussed under this heading. These include: Rough lemon (C. jambhiri Lush.), Sweet lemon (C. limetta Risso), 'Meyer' (lemon X mandarin hybrid); 'Perrine' (lime X lemon hybrid); 'Ponderosa' (presumed lemon X citron hybrid), qq.v. under "Varieties".


The true lemon tree reaches 10 to 20 ft (3-6 m) in height and usually has sharp thorns on the twigs. The alternate leaves, reddish when young, become dark-green above, light-green below; are oblong, elliptic or long-ovate, 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 in (6.25-11.25 cm) long, finely toothed, with slender wings on the petioles. The mildly fragrant flowers may be solitary or there may be 2 or more clustered in the leaf axils. Buds are reddish; the opened flowers have 4 or 5 petals 3/4 in (2 cm) long, white on the upper surface (inside), purplish beneath (outside), and 20-40 more or less united stamens with yellow anthers. The fruit is oval with a nipple-like protuberance at the apex; 2 3/4 to 4 3/4 in (7 -12 cm) long; the peel is usually light-yellow though some lemons are variegated with longitudinal stripes of green and yellow or white; it is aromatic, dotted with oil glands; 1/4 to 3/8 in (6-10 mm) thick; pulp is pale-yellow, in 8 to 10 segments, juicy, acid. Some fruits are seedless, most have a few seeds, elliptic or ovate, pointed, smooth, 3/8 in (9.5 mm) long, white inside.

Origin and Distribution

The true home of the lemon is unknown, though some have linked it to northwestern India. It is supposed to have been introduced into southern Italy in 200 A.D. and to have been cultivated in Iraq and Egypt by 700 A.D. It reached Sicily before 1000 and China between 760 and 1297 A.D. Arabs distributed it widely in the Mediterranean region between 1000 and 1150 A.D. It was prized for its medicinal virtues in the palace of the Sultan of Egypt and Syria in the period 1174-1193 A.D. Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to Hispaniola in 1493. The Spaniards may have included lemons among the fruits they introduced to St. Augustine. They were grown in California in the years 1751-1768. Lemons were reported to be increasingly planted in northeastern Florida in 1839. Because of heavy imports from Sicily, commercial culture in Florida and California was begun soon after 1870 and grew to the point where 140,000 boxes were being shipped out of Florida alone. The small Florida industry was set back by a freeze in 1886, the susceptibility of the lemon to scab, and the unfavorable climate for curing the fruit, and also competition from California. Following the devastating freeze of 1894-95, commercial lemon culture was abandoned in Florida. Not until 1953 was interest in lemon-growing revived in Central Florida to take advantage of the demand for frozen concentrate and for natural cold-press lemon oil. At that time, Florida was importing lemons from Italy for processing. Plantings grew to 8,700 acres by 1975. Freezes caused 50% reduction by 1980. Still, in 1984, Florida exported $2 million worth of lemons.

In the meantime, Arizona had developed lemon orchards, though on a smaller scale than California. In the 1956-57 season, California produced 11 million gallons (42 million liters) of frozen lemon concentrate while Florida's output was still very small. California and Arizona became the leading sources of lemons in the western hemisphere. In recent years, California has produced nearly double the crop that can be profitably marketed fresh or processed. Foreign competition has increased and many California growers have destroyed their lemon groves or topworked the trees to oranges, but new cultural techniques making summer production possible may reverse the trend.

Guatemala has in the past 2 decades developed commercial lemon culture, primarily to produce the peel oil for its essential oil industry and secondarily for the purpose of dehydrating the fruit and preparing a powder for reconstituting into juice. Southern Mexico, too, is now a major grower of lemons, also primarily for lemon peel oil. Lemons are rarely grown for the fresh fruit market in Latin America. In South America, Argentina leads in lemon culture with Chile a distant second. Among the world's leading lemon growers and exporters are Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, South Africa and Australia. Lemons can be grown only at medium and high elevations in the Philippines.


With the resumption of mon-growing in Florida, workers at the Citrus Experiment Station, Lake Alfred, began a search for the most suitable cultivars, whether in dooryards, or in the United States Department of Agriculture planting at Orlovista, or the Lake Alfred collection. By late 1950, 200 selections had been brought together from various parts of the United States. Of these, 40 were budded onto 30-year-old grapefruit trees on rough lemon rootstock on the Minute Maid property at Avon Park. Two selections grown elsewhere were included in the studies-evaluation for thorniness, cold-and disease-susceptibility, sizes, juiciness, flavor, number of segments and seeds, yields, and quality of peel oil. The majority of the selections were judged undesirable; only a few showed promise for processing and fresh fruit marketing purposes. For processing, 'Villafranca' rated highest, followed by 'Eustis', 'Bearss', 'Perkin' and 'Avon'. Any of these, properly harvested and cured would be suitable for marketing fresh. Libby, McNeil & Libby, when planning for their lemon orchard at Babson Park, Florida, about 1948, tested varieties from all major lemon-producing areas of the world and chose 'Bearss' as rating highest in quality and quantity of juice, which was their chief concern at the time. In 1960, they added marketing of the fresh fruit and found the 'Bearss' equally desirable for this purpose.