This tool is part of the Citrus Resource

Citrus ID


Lemons (Common)





Cultivar or taxon


Citrus x limon (L.) Osbeck, pro sp. (sensu Mabberley 1997, Bayer et al. 2009); Citrus limon (L.) Burm. f. [=Citrus x limon (L.) Osbeck, pro sp.] (sensu Swingle and Reece 1967; sensu Tanaka sec. Cottin 2002)



Swingle and Reece (1967) noted that:

“The origin of the lemon is a mystery. Tanaka (1929, p. 342) suggests that it was not introduced to China until the Sung Dynasty (760-1297 A.D.), and it is still rare in India (according to Biraghi 1935). It was actively spread in the Mediterranean region by the Arabs about 1000 to 1200 A.D. Like the sour orange, it became widely and favorably known as a medicinal agent. According to Glidden (1937, p. 382), the lemon was first described in detail by Ibn-Jami, a physician at the court of Saladin (1171-1193 A.D.), in a treatise on the medical uses of the lemon (now lost; parts, however, have been preserved in quotations). The lemon was considered by Linnaeus to be a variety of the citron (C. medica) and obviously closely related to it. Probably the lemon should be considered as a satellite species of the citron; possibly it may prove to be of hybrid origin, perhaps having the citron and the lime for parent species. As is true with the grapefruit, it is difficult to explain the origin of the lemon as a hybrid, as it crosses readily with other species of Citrus and yet, when self-pollinated, reproduces itself from seed with only small variations. For this reason it is left here as a distinct, but probably satellite, species of Citrus.”

“The true lemon is of recent introduction and is still very rare in southern China, as was shown by Kwok Wa-shau, who in 1921 and 1922 made, under Swingle's direction, for the Bureau of Plant Industry (now encompassed by the Agricultural Research Service) a detailed survey of all the citrus fruits cultivated or found growing wild in the vicinity of Canton. The so-called white lemon, pak ning-mong in Cantonese, and the red lemon, hung ning-mong , both of which grow commonly in southern China, are not true lemons, but are hybrids, perhaps between the lemon and the mandarin orange….”

”The origin of the lemon is still doubtful unless it proves to be a hybrid or sport of the so-called lemon of India. The rough lemon, commonly used as a rootstock in the United States, is apparently widely naturalized or possibly indigenous in India and Pakistan, where it is called jambhiri. According to Bonavia (1888-1890, p. 61), it was mentioned by the Emperor Baber in his memoirs, composed in 1519 A.D. (Bonavia figured the fruit in pls. 131, 132). Hodgson (1937, p. 513) reported finding in India a form of jambhiri "indistinguishable from our Florida rough lemon." It grows in a seminaturalized state along the Mazoe River in Southern Rhodesia, South Africa, where it is called the Mazoe lemon. The rough lemon has been found to show a very high percentage of nucellar embryos, which would indicate a hybrid origin. True lemons, on the contrary, show only a small proportion (10 to 15 per cent) of nucellar embryony.”

Hodgson (1967) noted that:

“The lemon is the limone of Italy, the limon of Spain, and the citron of France. The fact that the French name is the same as the English name for a quite different, closely related fruit has led to both confusion and ambiguity in the literature.

The lemon must have originated in the eastern Himalayan region of India and adjoining areas, also the home of the citron, for natural hybrids with citron and lemon characters are abundant there. Indeed, most of the lemon-like fruits of India exhibit citron characters to some degree. It is an interesting fact, however, that lemons of the common Mediterranean type have not been found growing wild in any part of that region or elsewhere. For reasons that are not clear, possibly its more recent origin, the lemon as we know it seems to have spread to the Mediterranean and reached Europe much later than the citron (see chap 1, p. 6).

From archeological evidence, Tolkowsky (1938) has concluded that the lemon reached Italy by the end of the second century and was among the fruits taken by the Arabs to Spain prior to 1150 A.D. (see chap. 1, this work). It is clear that the Arabs took the lemon to the Mediterranean and across North Africa to Spain, for Arab writers of the twelfth century mention it as among the citrus fruits grown there at that time. It is also certain that tae Crusaders took it from Palestine to southern Europe, Italy in particular, not long thereafter. It is known that the lemon was among the fruits taken to the New World by Columbus on his second voyage in 1493.”

”Pink-fleshed bud sports are known to have occurred in the acid lemon group, but the writer has been unable to discover any that have been named and propagated commercially.

While some authorities would include the distinctive limettas of the Mediterranean, in the opinion of the writer these can best be regarded as a separate, closely related group and considered under C. limetta Risso.”



Crown compact or dense, not weeping. First-year twig surface glabrous; second- or third-year twig surface striate; thorns absent or not persistent or straight; prickles absent or not persistent. Petiole glabrous, length short, medium or long; wings absent, if present, narrow, medium or wide, adjoining the blade. Leaflets one, margin crenate/crenulate, bluntly toothed or serrate/serrulate, shade leaflet blades flat or weakly or strongly conduplicate, sun leaflet blades flat, weakly conduplicate, rarely strongly conduplicate. Scent of crushed leaflets freshly lemon-like, rarely sweetly orange-like, spicy or peppery, or mandarin-like. Fruit broader than long, as broad as long, or longer than broad; rind rarely variegated, green-yellow (6), yellow (7-10), yellow-orange (11), orange (12), or red-orange (13); rind texture rarely smooth (1-3), slightly rough (4-5), medium rough (6-7), or rough (8); firmness leathery; navel absent; flesh yellow; rarely red/purplish-tinged; taste sour; rarely acidic-sweet.


Swingle and Reece (1967) provided the following additional notes on the species: “Small thorny trees, young leaves and flower buds reddish; leaves pale green, long-ovate, pointed at the tip, margins serrate or subserrate; petioles narrowly winged or margined, plainly articulated with the leaf blade; flowers reddish-tinted in the bud; petals white above, purplish below; stamens numerous, 20-40; ovary subcylindric or barrel-shaped, tapering into the thick deciduous style; fruit oval with a broad, low apical papilla, with 8-10 segments; peel yellow when ripe, rather thick, prominently glandular-dotted; seeds small, ovoid, pointed, smooth, white within.”



Hodgson (1967) provided the following additional notes on the species:



“The lemon tree is vigorous, upright-spreading, and open in growth habit. It attains large size under favorable conditions if not controlled by pruning. Seedlings and most varieties are comparatively thorny, with relatively short and slender spines. The light-green leaves are lanceolate in form with short, wing-margined petioles. The flowers, which occur in clusters produced throughout the year, are large and purple-tinged in the bud and on the lower surface of the petals. Many are sterile because of pistil abortion, which varies greatly from bloom to bloom and season to season. The new shoot growth is purple-tinted.


The fruit characteristics are so well known as scarcely to require description. Mention should be made, however, of the distinctive form and apical mammilla or nipple, the tight adherence of the highly fragrant rind, and the high acidity of the pale, straw-colored flesh.”



“…the tree characteristics commonly exhibit greater differences than do the fruits and hence are useful in both description and identification. Thus, the Lisbon tree in California is characterized by maximum growth vigor, thorniness, density of foliage, size, cold resistance, and production of a crop mainly in winter and spring. By contrast the Eureka tree is considerably less vigorous, virtually thornless, less densely foliated, much smaller, markedly less cold-resistant, and less productive but more everbearing. The bulk of the Eureka crop is produced in spring and summer. The Eureka variety also has a marked tendency to produce the fruit in terminal clusters. The characteristics of the Villafranca tree are intermediate between these two extremes though somewhat closer to Lisbon. In California, therefore, where the clones presently employed virtually all trace back to these three varieties, tree characteristics are much more important in description and more useful in identification than fruit characters.”


”All of those fruits that may be considered true lemons fall into two natural groups: the common or acid lemons and the sweet or low-acid lemons. Both groups are characterized by purple coloration in the flower buds, new shoot growth, and chalazal spots.”



Hodgson (1967) additionally noted that:

“Although more resistant than the citron and limes to cold and heat, the lemon is much more sensitive than the other citrus fruits of major importance, and hence its commercial culture is restricted to subtropical regions of mild winter temperatures. Relatively equable growing-season temperatures are advantageous in that they seem to emphasize the ever-flowering tendency and are favorable for fruit-setting. As a consequence, the seasonal distribution of the crop is such as to provide the maximum output during late spring and summer, when prices are normally high and there is a minimum storage requirement. Thus, in regions characterized by mild winters and cool equable summers, marketable fruit is available throughout the year with a minimum requirement for frost-protection and fruit storage, both of which are expensive. These facts serve to explain why, with minor exceptions, the principal commercial lemon-producing areas of the world are in coastal locations of southern California, Sicily, Greece, and Spain. By contrast, the picking season generally in interior districts is shorter and a much higher percentage of the crops come during the fall and winter, when prices are usually lower and longer storage is required for the summer markets. On the other hand, the fall and winter fruit ships and stores well and is higher in acid content."



Bartholomew, E.T. and W.B. Sinclair. 1951. The lemon fruit: its composite, physiology, and products. Univ. Calif. Press, Berkeley. 163 pp.

Bayer, R.J., D.J. Mabberley, C. Morton, C.H. Miller, I.K. Sharma, B.E. Pfeil, S. Rich, R. Hitchcock, and S. Sykes. 2009. A molecular phylogeny of the orange subfamily (Rutaceae: Aurantioideae) using nine cpDNA sequences. American Journal of Botany 96: 668–685.

Biraghi, A. 1935. Rilievi su alcuni Citrus a frutto acido presenti in India in relazione alla ricerca di forme resistenti al "mal secco." Bolletino della Reale Stazione di Patologia Vegetale Nova Seria 15: 424–441.

Bonavia, E. 1888-90. The cultivated oranges and lemons, etc., of India and Ceylon. W. H. Allen & Co., London. 384 pp.

Cottin, R. 2002. Citrus of the World: A citrus directory. Version 2.0. France: SRA INRA-CIRAD.

Glidden, H.W. 1937. The lemon in Asia and Europe. Journal of the American Oriental Society 57: 381–396.

Hodgson, R.W. 1937. The citrus fruits of India. California Citrograph 22:504, 513–514, 517.

Hodgson, R.W. 1967. Horticultural varieties of Citrus. In: Reuther, W., H.J. Webber, and L.D. Batchelor (eds.). The Citrus industry, rev. University of California Press.

Mabberley, D.J. 1997. A classification for edible Citrus (Rutaceae). Telopea 7: 167–172.

Swingle, W.T. and P.C. Reece. 1967. The botany of Citrus and its wild relatives. In: Reuther, W., H.J. Webber, and L.D. Batchelor (eds.). The Citrus industry. Ed. 2. Vol. I. University of California, Riverside.

Tanaka T. 1929a. Remarks on citrus and citrus relatives in China. Lingnan Science Journal 7: 337–348.

Tolkowsky, S. 1938. Hesperides: a history of the culture and use of citrus fruits. John Bale Sons & Curnow, London. 371 pp.

U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1962. Chemistry and technology of citrus, citrus products, and byproducts U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Handbook 98: 99 pp.



Search for this cultivar in NCBI Entrez, NCBI Nucleotide, or NCBI Expressed Sequence Tags


Citrus ID Edition 2
October, 2011