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PlantFiles: Japanese Hardy Orange, Bitter Orange
Poncirus trifoliata

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Family: Rutaceae (roo-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Poncirus (pon-SEER-us) (Info)
Species: trifoliata (try-foh-lee-AY-tuh) (Info)

7 vendors have this plant for sale.

20 members have or want this plant for trade.

Category:
Perennials

Height:
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

Spacing:
4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)
6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)
8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)

Hardiness:
USDA Zone 6a: to -23.3 C (-10 F)
USDA Zone 6b: to -20.5 C (-5 F)
USDA Zone 7a: to -17.7 C (0 F)
USDA Zone 7b: to -14.9 C (5 F)
USDA Zone 8a: to -12.2 C (10 F)
USDA Zone 8b: to -9.4 C (15 F)
USDA Zone 9a: to -6.6 C (20 F)
USDA Zone 9b: to -3.8 C (25 F)

Sun Exposure:
Full Sun

Danger:
Plant has spines or sharp edges; use extreme caution when handling

Bloom Color:
White/Near White

Bloom Time:
Late Winter/Early Spring

Foliage:
Deciduous
Shiny/Glossy-Textured

Other details:
May be a noxious weed or invasive
This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds
Provides winter interest

Soil pH requirements:
6.1 to 6.5 (mildly acidic)
6.6 to 7.5 (neutral)
7.6 to 7.8 (mildly alkaline)

Patent Information:
Non-patented

Propagation Methods:
From softwood cuttings
From semi-hardwood cuttings
From seed; sow indoors before last frost
By grafting
By budding

Seed Collecting:
Allow unblemished fruit to ripen; clean and dry seeds
Seed does not store well; sow as soon as possible

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There are a total of 20 photos.
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Profile:

14 positives
No neutrals
2 negatives

Gardeners' Notes:

RatingAuthorContent
Positive coriaceous On May 3, 2014, coriaceous from ROSLINDALE, MA wrote:

An easy, exotic-looking shrub/tree. The 3" green thorns are vicious but ornamental year round. Flowers, foliage, and fruit are all attractive. In the south, this can become a small tree to 25'.

The fruits are packed with seeds, leaving little room for pulp. But I suppose the rind is what makes good marmalade.

Best in full sun, but it tolerates light shade. In the south, this is often a tree of woodland edges and understory.

I don't see winter dieback here in Boston Z6a, and suspect that it's hardy into Z5, as some sources state.

In the southeastern US, this has naturalized locally from east Texas and Arkansas to Pennsylvania and Florida, and it's been declared ecologically invasive by Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.

Positive Hikaro_Takayama On May 2, 2014, Hikaro_Takayama from Fayetteville, PA (Zone 6b) wrote:

I have 2 P. trifoliata plants that I got in 2006 & 2008, and they both survived a near-record low of -15 degrees this past winter with little or no damage.

One thing I noticed was that it seems that the place of origin seems to slightly affect the hardiness: the sapling I got in 2006 came from Gardensoyvey.com in Arlington, TN seems to be generally hardier (no damage vs tips of new growth killed) and leafs out earlier than the one I purchased from a nusery in New Bern, NC.

Still, definitely an interesting specimen plant for colder climes.

Positive imax71 On Nov 25, 2012, imax71 from Underwood-Petersville, AL wrote:

I have had my plant for about 12 years now. Last year was the first year it had little flowers on it. This year it produced the little bitter oranges. You have to have patience, I didn't think the little "oranges" would ever grow.
It is a tough plant also. I have moved the plant 3-4 times and it just keeps on growing.

Positive Skid64 On Apr 30, 2012, Skid64 from Hamilton
Canada wrote:

I live just north of the Niagara Region of Ontario, Canada. I purchased a small seedling, about 1' 1/2 high, about three years ago, the plant is now 4' and doing quite well. I planted it in a wind protected area to avoid "winter" burn. I have yet to have seen any blossoms, but that is likely more due to the age of the plant.

Positive farmgirl3 On Feb 23, 2012, farmgirl3 from Saxon, SC wrote:

I found this plant growing in an old 1700's homestead - log cabin and everything, deep in the woods here in upstate SC. There were several large shrubs about 10 ft tall with seedlings all around the bottoms. I dug several seedlings and transplanted them to an area of my yard that I had had trouble with children coming through to play on our dock. In no time i had an impenetrable hedge. I also took several of the exquisitely perfumed fruit and dried them for use in a fall potpourri mix. At the old homestead where I had gathered my treasures, the only invasiveness I saw was the seedlings under the parent shrubs. I walked a couple of more miles in these woods and saw no more hardy orange trees which makes me think they are not THAT invasive around here. Perhaps these settlers planted these as a living fence...or maybe they are not that old as the very last people living in that homestead were there in the 1930's. I found several unique plants around that log cabin...some type of beautiberry looking plant, a dwarf looking prickly pear with no thorns, and some type of apple.

Positive CrispyCritter On Oct 31, 2011, CrispyCritter from Clayton, GA wrote:

I found one these growing on a street corner in the city where I live in North Georgia. It was about 10 feet tall and appeared healthy.
Being a deciduous tree, unlike most citrus, it was changing colors and loosing leaves here the last weekend of October. A few dozen fruit were hanging on the partially bare branches.

I took home a few of the fruit to study, here are my impressions:

1. ping pong ball size fruit have slightly fuzzy surface.
2. fruit has a floral/citrusy unique scent.
3. Each fruit cut open had an average of 30 seeds (most of the interior of the fruit)
4. Gummy stuff in peel sticks to knives, hard to clean off.
5. Juice and fleshy pretty scanty.
6. Taste- not as vomit inducingly horrible as I've heard- tastes like a strong bitter grapefruit/lemon flavor. Still, I wouldn't volunteer to just sit and eat a fruit out of hand, but probably useful as a lemon substitute.

Positive waltseed On Dec 30, 2010, waltseed wrote:

I collect some fruit from under a hardy orange tree in Wichita, Kansas this fall. The tree, actually a shrub, about 8 feet tall and a little wider. I live 100 miles further north, on the border of zones 5-6, so I don't know it they will survive winters here. But doing so well where they were, I think there is a good chance of them surviving here. There is no significant change in altitude.
My goal is to cross these with some of the hybrids of the hardy orange and better flavered citris. Many such F1 hybrids exist but are said not to be as hardy, and not particularly good flavored.

Positive debnes_dfw_tx On Apr 5, 2009, debnes_dfw_tx from Fort Worth, TX (Zone 8a) wrote:

I have had this plant in the ground in my back yard for a few years now. Yes, it does have gnarley thorns on it, but mine grows straight up and we are careful when passing. It is in full sun for only a few hours each day, so I haven't seen any flowers on it yet. The foliage is filling out very well already, and its only the 5th of April.

I bought this plant because it was reported to be a Texas native citrus, and wanted a host for the Giant Swallowtail butterfly. For them it is working well. I have raised several butterflies from it so far. I hear the fruit are not very tasty, in fact they are bitter.

All in all, this plant is a great host, and would make a great barrier. The vendor who sold it to me said that a lady was having trouble with kids riding their bikes through her property and planted a row of them... Needless to say it fixed the problem. If looked after and trimmed up in fall, (with heavy long sleeves and gloves on, of course) this is a very nice member to have in my butterfly host garden. I am glad I have it!

Positive wehrlebird On Jan 24, 2009, wehrlebird from Atlanta, GA wrote:

I live in Atlanta, Ga, and have worked as a land surveyor since 1993. I have seen this plant growing wild all over the Atlanta area. I don't see it very often, but when I do, it is always growing in the woods, and I assumed it was a native plant.

I have some property about an hour East of Atlanta, and 2 years ago I discovered it growing fairly widely in the woods there. In all cases but one, I have seen it growing only as a single small shrub. However, one huge plant has many tiny offspring growing below it, but nothing impenetrable like a black berry thicket. The fruit here is sour, but also sort of semi sweet and perfumey. This year, I gathered the fruit and made a very tasty "lemonade" as did another commenter, as well as using it on fish. Next year I think I'll try something like "lemon meringue pie" or "lemon squares". I have also read that it makes a very good marmalade.

The previous commenter was right about there being something gummy or slippery in the peel or pith though.

I have read that in the UK, they make hedges with it. Perhaps its vicious thorns deters animals.

Negative ridge_farmer On Feb 11, 2008, ridge_farmer from La Fayette, GA wrote:

This plant is a noxious weed - one that I have been fighting for years. Wildlife transfer seed via digestion resulting in new plants in pastures and in the edges of wooded areas. Amazingly enough, this weekend I found a website for a nursery within 100 miles of my farm offering these weeds for sale at $10 each. I understand the value of this plant as rootstock and maybe as an ornamental (they certainly are strange looking) - but if you plant one, please eliminate the fruit as it ripens to avoid wild propagation.

Positive Phrederica_VA On Jan 4, 2006, Phrederica_VA from Montpelier, VA wrote:

I have actually taken the time to juice some of the little fruits. It is a royal pain, but the juice was delicious when made into a "lemonade". It tasted like a cross between lemon and grapefruit. There's something gummy in the peel that makes a huge mess of juicers and knives, though.

My trees are over 10' tall and are growing at over 12" per year still, so I'm not sure how tall they'll get in my central Virginia area. I love this plant. Yes, the thorns are evil, but the overall shape is nice and with the very pretty bark, and the beauty of the thorns, it's a lovely small tree even in winter. I have pruned off some of the lower branches each winter to make a tree shape; otherwise you'll have a bush. The foliage is also beautiful, tri-leaved and shiny. I get a few seedlings every year as volunteers, so if you want to propogate it, at least in my area, just dig up a few and transplant them. I originally got this plant from my mother-in-law, who got it from her father, who got it from a Chinese embassy representative in the early 1900's. It was very rare at that time. The only problem that I've had is that this year, from three trees about 10 years old, I had about three 5-gallon buckets of fruit to clean up!

Regarding the invasive nature of this plant: I have no problems in Virginia with it. I have had mine for 15 years now (I'm updating my previous entry). I get many seedlings right below the tree which are quite manageable since they're in a small area. However, I have seen no signs of any wildlife in my area eating the fruits, nor have I found any seedlings anywhere that were unexpected. I am also concerned about invasive non-natives and am waging war on two fronts against Vinca minor and Creeping Charlie, so I understand the other person's concern.

Positive Marylyn_TX On Mar 11, 2005, Marylyn_TX from Houston, TX (Zone 9a) wrote:

We have several of these outside our windows. They are evidently ungrafted root stock ("Flying Dragon") because they do not get any blooms or fruit, and very few leaves. They just grow tall and look menacing.

Negative 1115rs On Aug 27, 2004, 1115rs from Pittstown, NJ wrote:

I am a Landscaper. A customer has one of these plants. 7-8feet tall 4 feet in diameter. It is in Bridgewater, NJ. One of its wicked thorns went right through my finger and then came back out without breaking off. We need to market these plant I notice that the Deer do not go near it. The fruit tastes terrible. Thats all.

Positive timbalo On Mar 25, 2004, timbalo from Columbia, SC wrote:

This is a very hardy and fast-growing plant. It's also a prolific producer of bitter citrus fruit about 1-1/2" in diameter. In the 3 years since its arrival in our yard, our poncirus has grown about 12 inches per year and is now just over 6 feet tall. Many small (1-inch) white flowers in spring attract bees. Wicked thorns are up to 2 inches long. Trunk and stems are green when newly developed, then become gray with age.We don't have deer in our neighbborhood, but I can't imagine anything that bleeds trying to chew on this plant.

Positive Bairie On Mar 4, 2004, Bairie from Corpus Christi, TX (Zone 10a) wrote:

There are many sour (or bitter) orange trees in Corpus Christi in people's yards. Most of these are results of a hard freeze about 18 years ago that froze grafted orange trees to the ground, and the sour orange trees came up from the rootstock. They are not grown commercially here as they are in some places (such as in subtropical Lower Rio Grande Valley where nurseries grow them for rootstock). Sour orange trees are easily grown from seeds. Seeds should be taken from slightly overripe fruit, cleaned and dried, then planted in a pot in early spring. They are evergreen and in warm climates do well outside.

Search the internet for "sour orange" + recipes and you will find recipes for marmalade, marinades, and desserts. Leaves and flowers can be used to make tea.

Positive saya On Feb 29, 2004, saya from Heerlen
Netherlands (Zone 8b) wrote:

This shrub grows easily in my zone in the Netherlands..so it can withstand heavy frosts and has survived winter 2002/2003 without no problems. Temps went down to -20 C and it grows even not at a sheltered place. The flowers are fragnant en the fruit is cute..look like small sized tennisballs. The fruit still smells a little after the perfume of the flowers but has also definately a lemonsmell when you cut them open.The fruit carries a lot of seeds and the flesh is more soft than the ordinary lemons. They are not edible but can be used for its cytrusbitterniss in marmelades.
Mind the long thorns that reaches 8 cm when you have children or pets. Birds love the fruit and the shelter they get from this shrub...unreachable for my neighbours cat...

Regional...

This plant has been said to grow in the following regions:

Atmore, Alabama
Birmingham, Alabama
Midland City, Alabama
Hattieville, Arkansas
Wilmington, Delaware
Gainesville, Florida
Pensacola, Florida
Atlanta, Georgia
Clayton, Georgia
La Fayette, Georgia
Newnan, Georgia
Rome, Georgia
Sautee Nacoochee, Georgia
Savannah, Georgia
Louisville, Kentucky
Mc Dowell, Kentucky
Prestonsburg, Kentucky
Taylorsville, Kentucky
Baltimore, Maryland
Kensington, Maryland
Silver Spring, Maryland
Danvers, Massachusetts
Roslindale, Massachusetts
West Plains, Missouri
Glassboro, New Jersey
Neptune, New Jersey
Scotch Plains, New Jersey
Brooklyn, New York
Jackson Heights, New York
Roslyn, New York
Staten Island, New York
Durham, North Carolina
Henderson, North Carolina
Wilson, North Carolina
Eugene, Oregon
Portland, Oregon
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Fayetteville, Pennsylvania
Greencastle, Pennsylvania
Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania
Columbia, South Carolina
North Augusta, South Carolina
North Charleston, South Carolina
Collierville, Tennessee
Hendersonville, Tennessee
Loudon, Tennessee
Austin, Texas
De Leon, Texas
Emory, Texas
Fort Worth, Texas
Houston, Texas
New Caney, Texas
San Antonio, Texas
Afton, Virginia
Montpelier, Virginia
South Boston, Virginia
Vienna, Virginia



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