Lime identity crisis

bradarmiApril 4, 2011

So I have been growing a "lime tree" for (~10??) years as a container plant, inside during our Chicago winters and outside in the spring-fall. I just finished my dissertation and have been really busy and kind of neglected the tree as far as removing fruits and pollinating by hand.

Well, some of my limes were yellowish and when I cut into them, they tasted like lemon! I brought the tree from Monrovia at a local nursery and it was labelled "lemon (Eureka Improved if I remember, I lost the tag)." Aside from the embarassment this causes me (I am a plant nut) I cannot believe I lost the original tag and have had the plant for so long I cannot remember letting the fruit stay on the tree for seveal months (less than a year, but not much).

So my question is how do I know for certain if I have a lime or a lemon tree? I have looked closley at the leaves and they resemble each other (at the nursery). I just read a previous post on this forum and it say lemons can take up to nine months to fully ripen and I think all these years I have been harvesting too fast.

By the way, if it is a lemon tree I will be more than happy because I use lemone more than lime.


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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Well, first off, Eureka is a lemon. There is no "Eureka Improved" lemon, but there IS a Meyer Improved lemon, which is actually a lemon hybrid - a cross between a lemon and either a mandarin or a sweet orange. And the best way to tell a lime and a lemon apart, is the pulp of a lime will be green and smell & taste like a lime, even when the skin turns yellow (limes ripen and turn yellow). Limes also tend to be smaller, harder, and thinner skinned than lemons. So, if you are pretty sure the hang tag said "Eureka", you've got a lemon. I would take a look on the link I've included, as well as the UCR Citrus Collection web site at the various lemons and limes and see if you can identify your little tree :-) And, in general, here are the differences between lemon and lime trees: The leaves of a lime tree are dark green, oval in shape and 3-1/2 to 5 inches long. Lemon tree leaves, which are oblong, elliptic or long-ovate in shape, are not as round as lime tree leaves. They are dark green on top and light green below, and they grow to be 2-1/2 to 4-1/2 inches long. Lime trees have white flowers approximately 1 inch in diameter with five petals. Lemon tree flowers have four to five petals, but they are slightly smaller than lime tree flowers, measuring approximately 3/4-inch in diameter. UCR Citrus Variety Collection:

Patty S.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Citrus Pages

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 3:37PM
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Patty has provided some good pointers about the taste differences, but I will politely disagree about the leaf and blossom size of limes. My guess is that there is a great deal of variation between varieties where these traits are concerned. My preferred test would be to let the fruit ripen till it is actually aromatic (you should be able to put your nose close to it and smell it), and then pick one and perform a taste test.

Key Limes turn yellow when ripe and are very aromatic. They also harvest themselves (by that, I mean they fall off the tree and bounce around on the floor and roll under furniture and radiators!). Long before that happened to a true lemon, you would be able to tell it was a lemon.

I have a Key Lime, and its blossoms are quite small (3/4 inch diameter). My Ponderosa Lemon, which is not a true lemon, has much larger blossoms than my other citrus--they are up to 1.5 inches across. My Meyer Lemon's blossoms (again, not a true lemon) are about 1 to 1.25 inches in diameter. Leaves also vary quite a bit. My Key Lime's leaves average about 2.25 inches, but range from 1.5 to, rarely, 4. My Ponderosa and Meyer Lemons have significantly larger leaves on average.

I suspect that one fairly clear indication you have a lime is the presence of at least some distinct wings on the leaf petioles or stalks. We're not talking about wings like on a Kaffir Lime, but on some of my Key Lime leaves I can see small but distinct wings about a 1/16 to an 1/8 inch wide on each side of the petiole. Lemons usually have very small wings if they have them at all.

Another clue: Lime spines are rarely more than 1/2 inch long. Lemon spines often are 1 inch long.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 8:24PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

Well, I will now politely beg to differ about your spines, lol!! :-) My lemon spines on my mature lemon trees are very small. Lisons are a different animal all together,of course, but my Eureka and my Meyer have small spines 1/2 or less in length. Both yound lemon and lime branches will develop some wicked thorns, but comparing mature thorns on mature wood, my lemon thorns are not any bigger than my lime thorns. And I should have been more specific about the blossoms - I was talking about my Bearss lime, not the Mexican or Key lime, which do have little bitty flowers, which match their little bitty fruits. And you can't compare a Ponderosa lemon, Don! A Ponderosa is a "lemon on steroids", hah!! I was referring to Eurekas, Lisbons and the Italian (Femminello) lemons. Ponderosa blossoms are as big as a grapefuit blossom!

Patty S.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2011 at 8:43PM
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noss(Zone 9a Lafayette, LA)

What are petioles and wings on the leaves?

Also, what is the best lemon for making limoncello?



    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 3:16AM
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jean001a(Portland OR 7b)

Limes are used green. That is, not yet ripe.

Whenever limes are left on the tree long enough, they will ripen, develop the yellow skin color, and have a flavor more like lemon that lime.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 11:01AM
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Winged petioles are simply leaf stems that appear to have leaf-like extensions. On some citrus species like Kaffir Limes, the wings can be almost as large as the leaf proper.

The link I've added has a number of good pictures of winged petioles of the very obvious kind!

Here is a link that might be useful: See Winged Petioles here!

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 3:54PM
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Patty: you are correct to point out the spines also vary. I was looking through the link I posted above and again below, and one of the limes (well down the page) has very impressive blackish spines. It looks quite interesting!

There are some species of citrus on that page that look very interesting.

My Ponderosa lemon thinks it is a lemon (it made contributed a fruit for the delicious lemon meringue pie I made a couple weeks ago)!

Here is a link that might be useful: Some interesting citrus species

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 4:03PM
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Wow, thanks for all the follow-ups. I returned just after a day or two and there are seven replies.

I particularlly enjoyed the spine-conversations. I will have to really pay attention to the flowers when they open. (I had some flowers in January but not many now). I am at work now, but I don't remmember the spines to be that long, but I do have an orange and a real lemon for comparrison. As far as I can remember, the leaf petioles are almost non-existant on this tree - compared to the orange tree.

Vivian asked a great question about which lemons are good for lemonchello - I might have to take a shot tonight while I

    Bookmark   April 5, 2011 at 5:47PM
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