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All About the Super Nova Mandarin Tree

If you love oranges you’re probably a fan of Cuties and Halos, which have been in US grocery stores since 2004 and 2013, respectively.  But then a new player entered the mandarin orange market and it’s become a huge hit (exploded, you might say) in the upscale fruit market. I’m talking about the Super Nova mandarin!

A basket of mandarin oranges, similar to the Super Nova mandarin orange.

If you’ve never heard of Super Nova mandarins, keep reading to learn about them — you’ll thank us!


History of the Super Nova Mandarin Tree 

Super Novas are youngsters on the commercial fruit scene.  They were released in 2016, but they’ve actually been around for more than 50 years.

In 1966 Jack Hearn, a citrus breeder working for the US Department of Agriculture in Orlando, Florida crossed Lee and Nova mandarins.  One of the resulting hybrids was a seedless fruit, called 6-13-44, and it immediately stood out for its flavor.  There was just one problem.

The trees themselves didn’t produce any fruit.

For over 20 years, the USDA breeders struggled with this. In 1988 they sent budwood for grafting to UC Riverside, which led to the development of USDA 88-2 (crossing Lee x Nova with Novalee).

These new trees did produce fruit and while it wasn’t copious amounts, it was delicious!

Closeup of mandarin oranges growing on a tree.

After tasting the fruit, LoBue Citrus planted USDA 88-2 trees on 70 acres with plans for niche marketing.  They selected the name “Super Nova” to describe how bright and flavorful the fruit was.

Today other growers sell USDA 88-2, but under different marketing names like ‘Superna’ and ‘Lee x Nova.’


Super Nova Mandarin Characteristics

The Tree

A Super Nova mandarin tree grows 10-12 feet high, which makes it great for smaller gardens.  It can be grown in shrub/hedge form or in tree form.

The foliage is glossy and evergreen.  In online gardening forums, some growers describe small spines on the branches.

Blossoms on a mandarin orange tree.

In early to mid-spring you’ll enjoy fragrant orange blossoms on your tree.  The Super Nova is self-pollinating (more good news for small gardens) and the fruit develops and ripens in late fall and winter.

The Fruit

Super Novas are round, 2-3″ in diameter, with thin, slightly bumpy skin containing lots of oil.

Like most mandarins, Super Novas are easy to peel – these smell especially wonderful while you’re peeling them because of all the rich oil.

A peeled mandarin orange next to unpeeled mandarins.

Inside, the flesh is a dark orange color.  They’re seedless, juicy, and oh-so-fragrant.

(Fun fact: Mandarins are a group of oranges that include tangerines, clementines, and satsumas. The Super Nova is a tangerine.)


Common Uses for Super Nova Mandarins

Super Novas can be used for a wide range of fresh foods, as well as sweet and savory cooked dishes.

What Does the Super Nova Mandarin Taste Like?

The taste is what this fruit is known for.  A Super Nova tangerine is described as having a rich flavor, bursting with a perfectly balanced ratio of sweetness to acid.  

Eating Raw

Super Novas can be peeled for snacking or salads (both fruit and garden).  Their juice content makes them ideal for juices, smoothies, marinades, and dressings.

A fresh mixed fruit salad containing pieces of orange.

Cooking/Baking

You might not automatically think of citrus fruit for baking, but imagine substituting lemon juice with fresh-squeezed Super Nova juice in a lemon meringue pie recipe to create an orange version!  

Closeup of a citrus meringue pie.

For years fans of the Jan Karon Mitford series drooled over the Orange Marmalade Cake one of her characters was known for.  Karon finally shared the recipe so her readers can savor the cake in real life (keep reading to get to it).

The juice from fresh Super Novas can be used to make marinades for meat dishes, but it gives an extra special zing when used for marinating fish.

Fish tacos with mandarin orange slices on them.

Love teriyaki?  Then you’ve got to try a version with freshly squeezed tangerine juice in the sauce – it’s guaranteed to become a new favorite in your meal lineup!

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Marmalade (use this to make the orange marmalade cake)

A spoonful of orange marmalade from a jar.

Health Benefits of Mandarins

Mandarin oranges are high in vitamin C, and dietary fiber.  They’re also a source of vitamin A, beta-carotene, and calcium. But you already knew that oranges are good for you!

Where To Buy Super Nova Mandarins 

Super Novas are available in stores from December through February (about 6 weeks), so you’ll want to scoop them up when you can.

While researching this article I wasn’t able to find information about where Super Novas are commercially distributed in grocery stores.  Since California is likely where USDA 88-2 growers are located, you’ll have the most luck asking about ‘Super Nova,’ ‘Superna,’ or ‘Lee x Nova’ mandarins/tangerines in California grocery stores.

A market display of mandarin oranges.

If you don’t live in the Golden State, you can still enjoy Super Novas by ordering them from online specialty produce companies.  A Google search will give you a listing of produce retailers who advertise Super Nova, Superna, or Lee x Nova mandarins.


Can You Grow the Super Nova Mandarin Tree at Home?

Even though this is a young commercial fruit, the Super Nova is available to the home grower market. 

In citrus zones (9-11), a Super Nova mandarin can be grown outdoors as part of hedges or as stand-alone trees. 

In zones 4-8, it can be pruned to grow in containers. In the colder zones, it can also be grown as a houseplant that you move outside in the warm months and then back inside when nighttime temps drop to 39 degrees.

Growing the Super Nova Mandarin Tree

The following sections touch on the basic requirements for growing and caring for a mandarin orange tree.  For a deeper dive into the ins and outs of growing your own oranges, read our article How to Grow an Orange Tree.

Mandarin orange trees full of fruit.

Sunlight

Like all orange trees, mandarin trees need full sunlight.  At least 6 hours – more is better!

Soil

Plant your mandarin tree in well-draining soil to avoid issues with root rot and other diseases.

Water

Super Nova mandarin trees have low water requirements.  A deep, once-a-week soaking is all they need.


Mandarin Tree Care 

A potted mandarin orange tree.

Fertilizer

Give your mandarin tree regular feedings.  To know what the best products are, read our recommendations for Best Lemon Tree Fertilizers and Best Grapefruit Tree Fertilizers.

Pruning 

After fruiting, prune your mandarin tree to prepare for the next growing season.  Read our guide on Pruning Orange Trees for specific details and techniques.

Diseases & Care 

Citrus trees of all kinds fall victim to many of the same diseases.  The big ones to watch for are anthracnose, armillaria root rot, citrus scab, and citrus black spot.

For more information about identifying, treating, and even preventing citrus tree diseases, read our blog posts on Grapefruit Tree Diseases and Lemon Tree Diseases.

Pests 

The same is true when it comes to pests – there are common culprits that target all types of citrus trees.  Aphids, leaf miners, thrips, and scale insects are just a few that you may deal with.

Forewarned is forearmed, so read our posts on Grapefruit Tree Pests and Lemon Tree Pests.  You’ll learn how to identify, eliminate, and deter pests that could damage your mandarin crop and tree.


When to Harvest Super Nova Mandarins

Mandarin oranges growing on a tree.

Super Novas are ready for harvesting in winter.  To know just when the right time is to pick your mandarins, read our guide to Picking Oranges on our website.

Once Super Novas are picked, they keep for one week at room temperature and two weeks when refrigerated.

Where to Buy the Super Nova Mandarin Tree

Have we gotten you excited enough to want to grow your own Super Nova mandarin tree at home?  Then order one from Nature Hills Nursery and get planting!


Get Your Hands on These Exclusive Mandarins!

This less-available tangerine goes head to head with Cuties and Halos in taste, aroma, and the fruit’s gorgeous color inside.  But because the Super Nova doesn’t yet have the same market reach and comes with a higher price tag, it hasn’t unseated its rivals from their thrones…yet.  As more consumers try these mandarins, the market demand for them will likely increase.

A woman holding a peeled mandarin orange and some slices.

But the great news is that you can grow your own niche market-quality mandarins in your outdoor garden or even as a container houseplant.

If you’re a huge fan of oranges, or you’re just curious to learn more about them, visit our Orange Trees page. You’ll find profiles on different orange varieties, plus all the growing and care guides you need to start your very own grove!