Forest & Kim Starr
Plant Common Name
Clementine, Mandarin, Tangerine
Easy to peel and eat, tangerines delight children and adults alike. These small to medium-sized evergreen fruit trees have been grown for centuries and are highly prized by cultures across the world. Originating from southeastern Asia and the Philippines, they were eventually moved along Asian trade routes through to the Mediterranean and Europe. Between 1840 and 1850, plants were first brought to the United States via New Orleans and later shipped to Florida and California where many commercial groves exist today. Tangerines are also produced in large numbers in Mexico and shipped worldwide.
Also known as mandarins and clementines, tangerine trees have spreading, open crowns covered with glossy, elliptical, fragrant leaves with slightly winged stems and minute teeth along the edges. Flowers appear from very late winter to spring and may be single or clustered. In bud they are red or purple-hued and open to reveal white fragrant blooms that are highly attractive to honeybees, which produce tangerine honey. The fruits are fragrant, round and flattened at the ends and have loose, leathery skin that becomes bright orange to red-orange when ripe. The juicy, sweet sections have many or few seeds, depending on the variety.
Fruits usually ripen in winter and are clipped from the trees for harvest to avoid damage to their skin. Trees are often alternate bearing, which means they produce a heavy crop one year and a lighter crop the next.
Cold sensitive, but more tolerant than other citrus, tangerines prefer locations with warm, dry winters, and cool summers. They require full sun and are tolerant of most soils, even poor soils, with ample drainage. Though moderately drought tolerant once established, they must have regular applications of water for good fruit production. Regular fertilization is also required as they are heavy feeders.
Tangerine trees are smaller that other citrus, but still need plenty of space for their spreading crowns to grow. There are a multitude of varieties available, some ideal for commercial production and others best suited to backyard orchards. Most are grafted on to rootstocks, which impart tolerances to soils, pests and climate conditions. Popular cultivars include ‘Clementine', 'Dancy', ' Fremont' and ‘Ponkan’.
Mandarins make good tub or conservatory specimens where not hardy and attract the North America giant swallowtail butterfly which uses this and other citrus as larval food.