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The Seville Orange Tree

The Seville orange tree (Citrus aurantium) is one of the most ubiquitous citruses in the world. Also known as the marmalade, bigarade, or simply sour or bitter orange, the Seville is so widespread that it has innumerable wild populations stemming from orchards. 

Citrus aurantium, the Seville orange tree.
Citrus aurantium, the Seville orange tree.

These trees took root in the Western hemisphere after being transported from Spain, where it had been cultivated by the Moors. Wild Seville orange trees can be found near small streams and ponds in Florida and the Bahamas.

To this day, the Seville orange tree remains one of the most popular and important citrus plants on the planet. Once you learn a bit more about the Seville, you’ll see exactly why!

History of the Seville Orange

The Seville orange tree is native to Southeast Asia, having been spread over centuries throughout the rest of the world. Their most common name comes from the Spanish city of Seville, where they have been cultivated since at least the close of the 12th century AD.

The bitter orange is likely a cross between the mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata) and the pomelo orange (C. maxima). 

Characteristics of the Seville Orange Tree

There are a number of cultivars of the Seville orange tree that are popular for different purposes and geographical areas. Citrus aurantium currassuiviencis laraha is grown on Curacao, the Caribbean island, as a key component in the Curacao liqueur. 

C. aurantium amara is a spiny evergreen cultivar that is widely cultivated as grafting stock for other citruses. It is native to Southern Vietnam. There and elsewhere it is often used for liqueurs such as triple sec, Curacao, and Grand Marnier. It is also suitable for marmalades. 

Many growers cultivate amara specifically for its essential oils, neroli oil, and orange flower water (derived from blossoms). A related cultivar, the Bergamot orange (C. bergamia, likely a limetta and bitter orange hybrid), is important for bergamot oil production, a key ingredient in many perfumes and Early Grey tea blends.

C. aurantium myrtifolia, also occasionally designated C. myrtifolia as its own species, is the “myrtle-leaved orange.” Its Chinotto variety is important for the Chinotto, an orange-flavored Italian soda drink.

C. aurantium daidai, on the other hand, is important in traditional Chinese medicinal applications. Japanese New Year celebrations also incorporate this cultivar. The daidai is often valued for the qualities its aromatic leaves bring to hot teas.

Planting Zones

Seville orange trees enjoy warm weather and perform well in USDA hardiness zones 9 to 11. Bitter orange trees can grow well in tropical and subtropical climates but can withstand short periods of freezing temperatures.

Size and Spacing

Seville orange trees can grow up to 20 feet high, so ensure you have plenty of room before planting any.

Plants typically have one to three inch long thorns— important to keep in mind while planting, since you’ll need room to move between trees. 

Pollination

Flowers will appear on your Seville orange plant sometime in late February or early March. They announce their arrival with a brilliant, aromatic scent that is unmistakably the bitter orange.

Seville orange tree blossom.
Seville orange tree blossom.

You can grow a bitter orange tree from the fruit’s seeds in many cases, too.

Seville Orange Tree Care 

The Seville orange tree is a bushy evergreen that is often spiny with winged stalks. Its white or pinkish flowers are quite aromatic, as are its juicy fruits. 

Sunlight

These trees will grow in both full and partial sun. 

Watering

Water your Seville orange trees deeply and regularly. These trees prefer rich, heavy soils that hold some moisture but will grow in many other soil types. 

Pruning

Pruning is important to maintain proper airflow between branches and give fruits room to grow. You should also keep fruits from hanging too low. How often you prune depends on whether you want decorative trees to line paths or accent your yard, or if you plan to harvest fruit for consumption.

Prune your trees at least once each season. Make sure to leave the best fruit-bearing branches, which tend to be strong and thick.

Diseases & Care

Fertilizing Seville oranges is essentially the same as with any other citrus cultivar. They are not prone to many pests. But they have a vulnerability to many common diseases that infect citrus trees, including leaf rot, mushroom root rot, and gummosis. 

Make sure to check your tree regularly to look for signs of infestation or disease and take appropriate measures to combat them. 

Common Uses For the Seville Orange

One of the most important uses of the Seville orange is as a rootstock for sweet orange groves.

Seville oranges are also useful for soap-making, since fruit and leaves make a voluminous lather.

The Seville orange tree’s wood is useful for woodworking and carpentry. In Cuba, the tree’s wood is used for baseball bats.

What Does the Seville Orange Taste Like?

The Seville orange is not called the bitter orange for nothing! These small to medium sized fruits have a thick, rough yellowish-orange rind that conceals a yellow to deep orange flesh.

Citrus aurantium fruit.
Citrus aurantium fruit.

The fruit’s flesh is juicy and soft, having many seeds within. The fruit breaks into 10 or 11 segments and is highly aromatic. They have a complex acidic, tangy, bitter-sour flavor that immediately sets them apart from most other citruses. 

Cooking

However, this hasn’t stopped people from finding innumerable uses for the bitter orange for cooking dishes and desserts. The Seville orange is commonly used for British orange marmalades since it has much higher pectin content than sweet oranges. These fruit are imported to Britain from Seville and have been since the late 17th century.

It is also a key component in the French dish duck à l’orange.

The bitter orange is important for compotes, liqueurs, and the production of bitters.

Unripened bitter oranges, known as narthangai, are common in South Indian dishes, especially Tamil. Bitter oranges are stuffed with salt and pickled in wedges or spirals. They are usually eaten along with yoghurt rice or as a side dish.

Belgian white beers are often spiced with bitter orange peel, and Scandinavian recipes for ginger breads, cakes, candies and other desserts call for it. 

Turkish dishes sometimes incorporate bitter orange juice for salad dressings, while Iraqi dishes complement fish and stews with it.

Greek, Albanian, Nicaraguan, Cuban, Haitian, Peruvian, Mexican, and Dominican recipes use the Seville orange in all sorts of cuisines. In fact, many of these recipes simply do not taste right without it!

Eating Raw

The bitter orange is not meant to be eaten raw. Raw pulp is quite bitter-tasting and inedible in itself. However, bitter orange extract, as well as the fruit’s peel, are both used by some as weight-loss aids and appetite suppressants.

Fruits last about a week at room temperature and up to four weeks in the fridge.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Seville oranges preserve quite well. They are commonly used for juicing, zesting, and marmalades. They are easily made into jams and jellies since their high pectin content makes their preserves easy to thicken.

Frozen whole Seville oranges can be stored for up to a year.

Health Benefits of that Fruit  

The Seville orange is packed with vitamin C, making it an important source of this nutrient. It is rich in dietary fiber and thiamine. Bitter orange fruits contain phosphorus, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, and numerous antioxidants. 

Slight, inconclusive evidence shows that the extract of C. aurantium may be useful for slight weight loss. However, bitter orange supplements may have serious health side effects and should be used with caution if at all. 

Additionally, Seville orange extract and oils may seriously interact with prescription medications in similar ways to grapefruits. Anyone whose medications indicate caution with grapefruit should consult their healthcare provider before using bitter orange as a dietary fixture or supplement.

Where To Buy The Fruit

Seville oranges are easiest to find between winter and early spring. The fruits are usually picked starting in November before being shipped from Spain or other regions.

Finding the freshest Seville oranges is important since their pectin begins degrading as soon as they leave the tree. This leads some people to seek out fruits that haven’t fully ripened yet. They are often sold in local farmers markets but can also be found in grocery stores when in-season.

You can find many other types of Orange Trees for sale online at Nature Hills Nursery.

Wrapping up The Seville Orange Tree

The Seville orange tree is one of the most widely grown citruses in the world. Over the last ten centuries, it has become a global phenomenon.

Whether in cooking, cleaning, perfumes, or decoration, the Seville orange has rooted itself in cultures across the globe.

The Seville orange tree is a fantastic choice for anyone looking to accent their home or yard. It is also a prolific producer of fresh fruits. If you choose the Seville orange, you can look forward to a gorgeous tree that rewards the effort you put into it.

As it turns out, the bitter orange is pretty sweet to grow.