The clementine tree is one of the best known citrus hybrids in the world. Technically a tangor or temple orange, the clementine is a full-flavored citrus that tastes sweet and sour. A cross between the sweet orange and the willowleaf mandarin, the clementine comes in three major types.
Standard clementines have up to ten seeds, while Monreal clementines contain more. A seedless clementine also exists. This range within the variety makes clementines a popular tree with many different growers. Clementines share a number of features with other varieties like tangerines and satsuma oranges, but plenty of qualities set them apart.
History of the Clementine Tree
The clementine is an older cultivar that originated in 19th century French Algeria. The clementine was discovered as a spontaneous hybrid by Brother Marie-Clement Rodier, C.S.Sp., a French missionary. Rodier reportedly discovered the fruit in the garden of the orphanage in Misserghin. It is from Brother Rodier that the clementine received its name in 1902.
Some have postulated that the clementine originated in the Guangxi or Guangdong provinces of present-day China. This has been deemed less likely by botanists after genomic analysis. Research has shown the clementine arose from a cross between Citrus deliciosa (willowleaf mandarin) and sinensis (sweet orange). This is far more consistent with origins in French Algeria.
Tree / Fruit Characteristics
Clementines are known for their ornamental qualities that enliven their surroundings. Clementines have round canopies with striking evergreen leaves, producing beautiful white flowers that exude a pleasing aroma.
These blossoms will become delightful fruits, ripening between November and February. (This has led to their being nicknamed the Christmas orange.) Clementines usually have thorns, adding to pest resistant qualities but making handling with gloves more comfortable.
The clementine’s fruit are a rich orange color with a smooth rind. The fruit’s skin has a luxurious shine and is easy to peel. Clementine fruits can be broken into many segments (usually anywhere from seven to 14).
Clementines are quite juicy with a sweet-sour flavor. They tend to be much less acidic than other oranges, adding to their appeal. Fruits contain many essential oils like myrcene, linalool, a-pinene, and a heavy helping of limonene. These oils give the fruits their characteristic, uniquely aromatic scent.
The clementine grows best in zones 9 through 11. Those outside these zones can grow clementines in containers indoors with relative ease. The clementine is most at home in the tropics and subtropics, as well as the Mediterranean. These plants require protection from frost and freezing temperatures, as well as prolonged cold spells. They enjoy much humidity but are prone to drying out if under-watered.
Size and Spacing
Clementine trees can grow between six and 25 feet tall, depending on the type. Clementines grafted onto dwarf stock stay much smaller, while clementine trees themselves can grow quite large. Regardless, clementines do best with plenty of space.
Make sure to plant your clementines at least as far apart as they will get tall. This is important to keep trees from growing into each other but also to give you space to walk between them. This will be beneficial especially because of the thorns that cover clementine branches.
If you plant in a container, one with wheels is advisable. Trees mature in two or three years. Potted plants will require repotting at about the time they mature and every few years afterward.
Clementines are remarkable for their ability to produce seeds without being fertilized, like many other popular plants. This phenomenon is called parthenocarpy. Clementines and other trees that reproduce parthenocarpically require cross-fertilization. This means they will not propagate themselves if left alone or surrounded by genetic clones (i.e., other grafts).
Because of this, the most popular method for propagating clementines is grafting. A wide number of citrus trees are compatible with clementine grafts and will serve as fine rootstock. This leaves you to choose which one fits your area and situation best.
Clementine Tree Care
Caring for clementines is relatively easy and many people keep them as houseplants. Some recommend clementines as starter citruses for newcomers since they tend to be more forgiving than other varieties. They take about four months to be ready for harvest. Plant your clementine in the fall or spring regardless of whether you use a seed or a start. Soil should drain well.
Trees are ready to harvest between early and mid-winter. They can be left longer but at the risk of fruit rot. Clementines do not overripen easily but must be left long enough as they also do not ripen once picked.
Clementines enjoy full sunlight. As long as they get between 8 and 12 hours of full sun each day, you can expect an appreciable harvest.
Make sure you plant them in a place that is far from any other trees or structures. This will ensure both that they can spread well and that they are not blocked from the sun.
Make sure to water clementine trees once weekly and slightly more often when younger. The goal is to keep soil moist but never oversaturated. Clementines tolerate high humidity well but this means they can dry out relatively easily. You can add sand or perlite to soil to help drainage.
On the other hand, make sure you don’t water too often or too much. Drowning citrus roots can lead to disease, especially fungal growth, and attract pests. Only water when you notice that the roots are beginning to dry out.
Prune your clementine trees every year during any season, though spring is the best time to do it. Your clementine will need pruning to stay healthy and maximize harvest size. You need to watch out for any dead or dying branches, as well as branches that cross the canoy center. Any suckers and overly thin branches should be removed, as these waste the tree’s resources. Do not prune more than a third of the tree in any given season and avoid removing branches that are flowering or fruiting best.
Diseases And Care
Fertilize your tree every other month. Clementines are susceptible to disease like any fruit tree. What you most should watch for are fruit flies, soft scale, leaf miners, canker, and phytophthora. If you see signs of infection or infestation, take action right away.
Common Uses For The Fruit
Clementines are one of the most flexible citrus fruits with uses in cooking, baking, canning, and more. They are commonly used in desserts, jams, and preserves.
What Do Clementines Taste Like?
Clementines taste sour, sweet, and tangy. Many confuse them with mandarins, but these are distinct fruits. Mandarins are a species of citrus while clementines are a variety— but both are Citrus reticulata. Other varieties of C. reticulata include Murcotts, satsumas, and tangerines, which accounts for their similarities. Clementines are the sweetest cultivar of this species, as well as the smallest.
You can cook clementines in a variety of ways. They are useful for desserts, sides, garnishes, and flavoring. Juice is also a popular use for clementines.
Clementines are a favorite for raw consumption. If you want to store fresh clementines, you can keep them in your pantry for about a week. They should be kept cool and dry. You can refrigerate clementines to preserve them longer.
Canning / Freezing / Drying
Clementines can be dehydrated, frozen, or canned with relative ease. They dry in about 12 hours at 125 F and should be stored in a vacuum-sealed container. Frozen clementines can be stored in freezer bags, but they should be initially frozen on trays or pans to keep them from sticking together. Preserves can be canned as jam or jelly and juices should be frozen for long term storage.
Health Benefits of Clementines
Clementines are rich in vitamin C. Fruits are mostly water but high in carbohydrates. They are low in fat and protein, and possess few micronutrients besides vitamin C. Clementines may interact with certain drugs in similar ways to grapefruit, meaning those who take such medications should be cautious.
Where To Buy Clementine Trees
Clementine trees are easy to find online on websites like Nature Hills Nursery. Shipping restrictions exist for these and other citruses, meaning those in restricted areas must find local sellers.
Where To Buy Clementines
Clementine orange fruits are common at many grocery stores and farmer’s markets across the United States. They are easiest to find fresh in areas where they can be grown locally.
Wrapping Up The Clementine Tree
The clementine tree is a unique, beautiful addition to a landscape or backyard fruit production. Clementines are easy to care for and not prone to serious problems. Fruit harvests are plentiful so long as trees receive the required care. Their heavy production, aesthetic appeal, and quick maturation make them a favorite for gardeners around the world.