Citrus Species, Japanese Hardy Orange, Bitter Orange

Citrus trifoliata

Family: Rutaceae (roo-TAY-see-ee) (Info)
Genus: Citrus (SIT-rus) (Info)
Species: trifoliata (try-foh-lee-AY-tuh) (Info)
Synonym:Aegle sepiaria
Synonym:Bilacus trifoliata
Synonym:Citrus trifolia
Synonym:Citrus triptera
Synonym:Poncirus trifoliata




Tropicals and Tender Perennials

Water Requirements:

Average Water Needs; Water regularly; do not overwater

Sun Exposure:

Full Sun




Provides Winter Interest

Foliage Color:

Unknown - Tell us


8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)


4-6 ft. (1.2-1.8 m)

6-8 ft. (1.8-2.4 m)

8-10 ft. (2.4-3 m)


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)

Where to Grow:

Grow outdoors year-round in hardiness zone

Can be grown as an annual


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

Bloom Color:

White/Near White

Bloom Characteristics:

This plant is attractive to bees, butterflies and/or birds

Bloom Size:

Unknown - Tell us

Bloom Time:

Late Winter/Early Spring

Other details:

May be a noxious weed or invasive

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:


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


This plant is said to grow outdoors in the following regions:

Atmore, Alabama

Birmingham, Alabama

Midland City, Alabama

Hattieville, Arkansas

Morrilton, Arkansas

Wilmington, Delaware

Gainesville, Florida

Pensacola, Florida

Atlanta, Georgia

Carrollton, 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

Framingham, 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

Yonkers, New York

Charlotte, North Carolina

Durham, North Carolina

Henderson, North Carolina

Wilson, North Carolina

Bartlesville, Oklahoma

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

Troup, Texas

Afton, Virginia

Montpelier, Virginia

South Boston, Virginia

Vienna, Virginia

show all

Gardeners' Notes:


On Jan 18, 2016, nothingfails from YAMBOL UPPER THRACE,
Bulgaria (Zone 7b) wrote:

A big disappointment. I planted it thinking its blossoms would have the same scent as regular oranges but they had no smell. Had to dig it out and replant bu it did not survive. No problems with hardiness but have not had lower thsn minus 13C while I had it.


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. The plants I see here don't seem to get over about 8' tall.

In the southeastern US, this has naturalized locally from east Texas and Arkansas to Pennsylvania and Florida, and it's been declared ecologicall... read more


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 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.


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.


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.


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... read more


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 hear... read more


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.


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... read more


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 tr... read more


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.


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 se... read more


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

This shrub grows easily in my zone in the 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...