Trifoliate orange

Trifoliate orange
Citrus trifoliata
A fruiting tree in Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Rutaceae
Subfamily: Aurantioideae
Tribe: Citreae
Genus: Citrus
Species: C. trifoliata
Binomial name
Citrus trifoliata
  • Aegle sepiaria DC.
  • Bilacus trifoliata (L.) Kuntze
  • Citrus trifolia Thunb.
  • Citrus triptera Desf.
  • Poncirus trifoliata (L.) Raf.
  • Pseudaegle sepiaria (DC.) Miq.

The trifoliate orange, Citrus trifoliata or Poncirus trifoliata, is a member of the family Rutaceae in the Citrus genus. Whether the species should be considered to belong to its own genus, Poncirus or included in the genus Citrus is debated. The species is unusual in Citrus for having deciduous, compound leaves and pubescent (downy) fruit.[2][3]

It is native to northern China and Korea, and is also known as the Japanese bitter-orange,[4] hardy orange[5] or Chinese bitter orange.

The plant is a fairly cold-hardy citrus (USDA zone 6) and will tolerate moderate frost and snow, making a large shrub or small tree 4–8 m tall. Because of its relative hardiness, citrus grafted onto Citrus trifoliata are usually hardier than when grown on their own roots.


Citrus trifoliata is recognizable by the large 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) thorns on the shoots, and its deciduous leaves with three (or rarely, five) leaflets, typically with the middle leaflet 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) long, and the two side leaflets 2–3 cm (0.79–1.18 in) long. The flowers are white, with pink stamens, 3–5 cm (1.2–2.0 in) in diameter, larger than those of true citrus but otherwise closely resembling them, except that the scent is much less pronounced than with true citrus. As with true citrus, the leaves give off a spicy smell when crushed.

The fruits are green, ripening to yellow, and 3–4 cm (1.2–1.6 in) in diameter, resembling a small orange, but with a finely downy surface.



The cultivar "Flying Dragon" is dwarfed in size and has highly twisted, contorted stems. It makes an excellent barrier hedge due to its density and strong curved thorns. Such a hedge had been grown for over 50 years at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and is highly student-proof.[6] The plant is also highly deer resistant[7]

As food

The fruits are very bitter and most people consider them inedible fresh, but they can be made into marmalade.[7] When dried and powdered, they can be used as a condiment.


Traditional medicine

The fruits of Citrus trifoliata are widely used in Oriental medicine as a treatment for allergic inflammation.[8]


Wikimedia Commons has media related to Citrus trifoliata.
  1. The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species, retrieved 26 March 2016
  2. Dianxiang Zhang & David J. Mabberley, "Citrus Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 782. 1753", Flora of China online, 11
  3. Dianxiang Zhang & David J. Mabberley, "Citrus trifoliata Linnaeus, Sp. Pl., ed. 2. 2: 1101. 1763", Flora of China online, 11
  4. "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-02-25. Retrieved 2014-10-17.
  5. "Poncirus trifoliata". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 31 January 2016.
  6. Gerald Klingaman. "Plant of the Week. Hardy Orange or Trifoliate Orange. Latin: Poncirus trifoliat". University of Arkansas. Division of Agriculture.
  7. 1 2 Green Deane Hardy. "Hardy Orange".
  8. Zhou H.Y.; Shin E.M.; Guo L.Y.; Zou L.B.; Xu G.H.; Lee S.-H.; Ze K.R.; Kim E.-K.; Kang S.S.; Kim Y.S. (2007), "Anti-inflammatory activity of 21(alpha, beta)-methylmelianodiols, novel compounds from Poncirus trifoliata Rafinesque.", European Journal of Pharmacology, 572 (2-3): 239–248, doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.07.005, PMID 17662711
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