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All About the White Grapefruit Tree

The White Grapefruit tree, known as Citrus paradisi and the Texas grapefruit, is a subtropical evergreen citrus most often cultivated commercially for its large sweet-tart fruit. White grapefruits are known for their semi-sweet flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. These trees are also grown for their aesthetic qualities and fruit production in backyard gardens. 

The White Grapefruit tree is popular in part because of its easy care. This means it’s relatively easy to find. 

Closeup of cut fruit from a White Grapefruit tree.

History of the White Grapefruit Tree

The White Grapefruit tree has a history shrouded in myth and obscurity. It may have begun as a natural cross between the sweet orange and pummelo. It was initially nicknamed “forbidden fruit” and wasn’t called grapefruit until the 19th century. The name comes from the way the fruits grow in clusters, similar to grapes.

White Grapefruits made their way to the United States as seeds. Colonizers who came to Florida brought seeds to begin cultivating the fruit. By the end of the 19th century, the first White Grapefruit groves in Texas had been established. By the middle of the 20th century, the fruit had become an economic pillar for the area.

Tree / Fruit Characteristics

Closeup of a Texas grapefruit, another name for the White Grapefruit tree.
A Texas Grapefruit, which is another name for the White Grapefruit tree.

The White grapefruit is so named because its rind is a white or off-white color. The fruit inside is dense and segmented. The fruit’s flesh can range from yellow to red, though Texas varieties tend to have very red flesh. This is because red flesh was selectively bred from hybrids found on commercial trees. Fruits grow in bunches or clusters resembling giant grapes, which is where the fruit derives its name.

Planting Zones

As a subtropical plant, White Grapefruit trees like warmer climates. They can be grown in USDA agricultural zones 9 and up, though they can be grown with extra care down to zone 7. White Grapefruits prefer loamy soil that drains well. Plant your tree in the spring or fall, preparing for the heat of summer or cold of winter soon after, respectively.

Size and Spacing

You should plant your grapefruit trees about 25 feet or more apart so they have enough room to grow. Make sure to space grapefruit trees at least four meters (12 feet) away from sidewalks, buildings, driveways, and other landscaping fixtures. These can be damaged by root growth and eventually overcrowd the area, hurting the tree’s growth. 

Pollination

White Grapefruit trees are largely self-pollinating as long as they are accessible to natural pollinators. Bees, wasps, flies, and other wildlife help grapefruit trees self-fertilize. However, additional trees can increase each plant’s fruit production. Additionally, trees inside greenhouses or otherwise inaccessible to pollinators will need help through hand pollination. Thankfully, hand pollinating grapefruit trees is very simple and easily done by beginners.

Tree Care 

Light yellow grapefruits growing on a tree in California.

White Grapefruits are relatively easy to care for and this makes them popular with beginners. Backyard gardeners enjoy them as a delicious citrus that’s simple to prune and nurture. While grapefruits are on the simpler side as far as care goes, the care they do need is essential for a healthy tree and productive harvest.

Sunlight

White Grapefruit trees enjoy full sun. Be sure to plant them somewhere they get at least 8 hours of direct light. Less than this can significantly hamper fruit production.

Watering

Water deeply until about 18 or 24 inches down is moist. Make sure not to overly saturate the soil. Grapefruits enjoy being watered fully but not too often. Water newly planted trees every few days for the first few weeks after planting. Young trees can be watered two to three times a week as needed. Established trees are usually well-served being watered every other week except when conditions are drier or wetter. 

Pruning 

White Grapefruit trees require little pruning. These trees naturally grow canopies that tend to be wide and spacious. Do be sure to trim back any dead leaves, stems, and rotting fruit. These are prime causes of many citrus diseases and removing them is often your best protection.

Diseases 

The White Grapefruit is a hardy plant, but it’s susceptible to disease like any other citrus tree. The most significant preventive measure growers can take is removing dead wood, leaves, and fallen fruit. These are notorious breeding grounds for fungi and bacteria that can seriously damage citruses. Mulching around your tree with a natural material can also help, though be careful to leave space between mulch and your tree trunk.

For more information about common grapefruit diseases, read our post at this link.

Pests

Pests are notorious citrus-killers and the grapefruit is unfortunately no exception. The grapefruit is an extremely common host for fruit flies. These insects lay eggs in rotting and overripe fruit. Eliminating spoiled fruit is essential to reducing their numbers. Fruit flies cost the grapefruit industry millions of dollars annually around the world.

Common Uses For The White Grapefruit

What Does The White Grapefruit Taste Like? 

White grapefruit has a unique flavor that ranges between sweet, sour, tart, and slightly bitter.

Cooking

White grapefruits can be cooked to eliminate their sour flavor. This enables them to be used in sweets and desserts. This is common in Haiti, Costa Rica, and other locations where grapefruit features heavily in local cuisine. 

Eating Raw

The white grapefruit is a favorite for raw consumption because of its juicy, firm flesh and sweet-tart taste. Raw grapefruit can be stored for one week at room temperature. Refrigerated grapefruit can last about two weeks before losing freshness. 

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Grapefruits are a prime choice for canning and freezing. Freezing grapefruit enables it to last for months, and canned grapefruit can last for years if stored properly. Drying grapefruit is also quite simply done in ovens, food dehydrators, or with other common methods. Dried grapefruit lasts for many months because of its extremely low moisture content.

Recipes

There are many ways that you can prepare white grapefruit in both sweet and savory recipes. Check out our 21 amazing grapefruit recipes, with dishes like grapefruit meringue pie, spicy grapefruit margaritas, grapefruit chermoula, and rosemary grapefruit sorbet. 

Health Benefits Of The White Grapefruit

White grapefruit sections in a grapefruit rind "bowl" next to whole grapefruits.

White grapefruits are generally a healthy addition to a balanced diet. Like other citruses, grapefruit is high in vitamin C. It also contains a small amount of protein, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Grapefruit juice contains much more citric acid than orange juice but far less than either lemon or lime juice.

People who take certain prescription medications need to be cautious about consuming white grapefruit. Grapefruit can interact with certain medications in dangerous ways, potentially leading to overdoses

Where To Buy a White Grapefruit Tree

White Grapefruit starts are relatively easy to find at nurseries around the world. This is owed to their being one of the most popular modern citrus varieties. It will be about three years before your White Grapefruit tree begins to make quality grapefruit. Remove any fruits produced before the third year to let your tree focus on growing its canopy.

Where To Buy White Grapefruits 

White grapefruits are available at farmers markets and grocery stores across the United States. Fruit grows between mid-June and mid-September, with harvest taking place in the fall. Fruits are ripe once they turn yellow or gold. Grapefruit becomes sweeter and larger the longer it stays on the tree.

FAQ

Is Grapefruit Good For The Skin? 

Grapefruit extracts are often used as components in skincare. This is because it is rich in beta carotene, an important antioxidant, and lycopene, which reduces inflammation and redness. Consuming raw grapefruit also helps keep skin hydrated, since it contains about 90 percent water. Antioxidants promote collagen production, protect from free radicals, and guard against damage from UV rays.

Is It Safe To Drink Grapefruit Essential Oils?

Always consult a healthcare professional before consuming grapefruit or any other essential oils. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice are both unsafe for people taking certain prescription medications. Grapefruit essential oils are also at risk for drug interactions if consumed. If you consume grapefruit oil, be sure to take it separately from medications and in very small diluted amounts. It is best not to drink essential oils of any type. It is much better to use them topically if at all. 

Conclusion

Pale yellow grapefruits that closely resemble the fruit of a White Grapefruit tree.

The White Grapefruit tree has made a name for itself over the last two centuries as an extraordinary citrus. While it is one of the younger commercially produced citrus varieties, it has had great success. The White Grapefruit is a hardy evergreen that’s rewarding for backyard gardeners and easy on beginners.

Because the White Grapefruit is such a popular choice throughout the southern United States, it is relatively easy to find. It requires little maintenance compared to other similar fruit trees. Because of these qualities, the White Grapefruit is a great choice for aspiring citrus growers.

Do you have a White Grapefruit tree in your garden? Tell us about it in the comments! 

Curious about other kinds of grapefruit trees? Click here to read other blog posts.