Trifoliate Orange
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Trifoliate Orange

Trifoliate orange
Citrus trifoliata or Poncirus trifoliata (syn.)
Poncirus trifoliata 1 JdP.jpg
A fruiting tree in Jardin des Plantes, Paris
Scientific classification
Citrus or Poncirus (syn.)
C. trifoliata or P. trifoliate (syn.)
Binomial name
Citrus trifoliata or Poncirus trifoliata (syn.)
L./(L.) Raf.
  • Aegle sepiaria DC.
  • Bilacus trifoliata (L.) Kuntze
  • Citrus trifolia Thunb.
  • Citrus triptera Desf.
  • Pseudaegle sepiaria (DC.) Miq.

The trifoliate orange, Citrus trifoliata or Poncirus trifoliata, is a member of the family Rutaceae. Whether the species should be considered to belong to its own genus, Poncirus or included in the genus Citrus is debated. The species is unusual among citrus for having deciduous, compound leaves and pubescent (downy) fruit.[2][3]

It is native to northern China and Korea, and is also known as the Japanese bitter-orange,[4]hardy orange[5] or Chinese bitter orange.

The plant is a fairly cold-hardy citrus (USDA zone 6) and will tolerate moderate frost and snow, making a large shrub or small tree 4-8 m tall. Because of its relative hardiness, citrus grafted onto Citrus trifoliata are usually hardier than when grown on their own roots.[6]


The trifoliate orange is recognizable by the large 3-5 cm (1.2-2.0 in) thorns on the shoots, and its deciduous leaves with three (or rarely, five) leaflets, typically with the middle leaflet 3-5 cm (1.2-2.0 in) long, and the two side leaflets 2-3 cm (0.79-1.18 in) long. The flowers are white, with pink stamens, 3-5 cm (1.2-2.0 in) in diameter, larger than those of true citrus but otherwise closely resembling them, except that the scent is much less pronounced than with true citrus. As with true citrus, the leaves give off a spicy smell when crushed.

The fruits are green, ripening to yellow, and 3-4 cm (1.2-1.6 in) in diameter similar in size to a lime and resembling a small orange, but with a finely downy surface and having a fuzzy texture similar to a peach. The fruits also have distinctive smell from other citrus varieties and often contain a high concentration of seeds.



The cultivar "Flying Dragon" is dwarfed in size and has highly twisted, contorted stems. It makes an excellent barrier hedge due to its density and strong curved thorns. Such hedges have been grown for over 50 years at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, and are highly student-proof.[7] The plant is also highly deer resistant.[8] In central London, mature Trifoliate Orange specimens can be seen in the gardens of St Paul's Cathedral.

Trifoliate orange and various hybrids of this plant are widely used as citrus rootstocks[9][circular reference].

Recent studies have revealed that the trifoliate orange contains aurapten at a high concentration, which is one of the functional components having immunity against citrus tristeza virus (CTV).[10]

As food

The fruits are very bitter, due in part to their poncirin content. Most people consider them inedible fresh, but they can be made into marmalade.[8] When dried and powdered, they can be used as a condiment.


Traditional medicine

The fruits of the trifoliate orange are widely used in medical traditions of East Asia as a treatment for allergic inflammation.[11]

Related cultivars

A second species in Poncirus native to Yunnan (China) has been reported and named P. polyandra.[12] Were Poncirus to be subsumed into Citrus, a renaming would be required since a distinct C. polyandra already exists: Citrus polytrifolia has been suggested.[13] However, Zhang and Mabberley concluded this Yunnan cultivar is likely a hybrid between the Trifoliate orange and another Citrus,[2] which would make it C. x polytrifolia.

The trifoliate orange does not naturally interbreed with core Citrus taxa due to different flowering times,[14] but hybrids have been produced artificially between the Trifoliate orange and other citrus. In the Swingle system, where the trifoliate orange is place in Poncirus, a hybrid genus name has been coined for these intra-generic crosses, "× Citroncirus". The most notable of these are the citrange, a cross between the trifoliate and sweet oranges, and the citrumelo, a hybrid of trifoliate orange and 'Duncan' grapefruit. Placing the trifoliate orange in Citrus would mean these hybrids would no longer be intergeneric, but instead hybrids within Citrus.


  1. ^ The Plant List: A Working List of All Plant Species, retrieved 2016
  2. ^ a b Dianxiang Zhang & David J. Mabberley, "Citrus Linnaeus, Sp. Pl. 2: 782. 1753", Flora of China online, 11
  3. ^ Dianxiang Zhang & David J. Mabberley, "Citrus trifoliata Linnaeus, Sp. Pl., ed. 2. 2: 1101. 1763", Flora of China online, 11
  4. ^ "BSBI List 2007". Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. Archived from the original (xls) on 2015-01-25. Retrieved .
  5. ^ "Poncirus trifoliata". Natural Resources Conservation Service PLANTS Database. USDA. Retrieved 2016.
  6. ^ "Notice to Fruit Growers and Nurseymen Related to the Naming and Release of the US-942 Citrus Rootstock" (PDF). Agricultural Research Service, USDA. 22 October 2010. pp. 1-2. Retrieved 2017.
  7. ^ Gerald Klingaman. "Plant of the Week. Hardy Orange or Trifoliate Orange. Latin: Poncirus trifoliat". University of Arkansas. Division of Agriculture.
  8. ^ a b Green Deane Hardy. "Hardy Orange".
  9. ^ Citrus rootstock
  10. ^ Ohta, Satoshi; Endo, Tomoko; Shimada, Takehiko; Fujii, Hiroshi (2011). "Karatachi no kankitsu torisuteza w?rusu teik?sei to rensa suru DNA m?k?" [PCR Primers for Marker Assisted Backcrossing to Introduce a CTV Resistance Gene from Poncirus trifoliata (L.) Raf. into Citrus]. Shimizu, Tokuro; Kuniga, Takeshi; Yoshioka, Terutaka; Nesumi, Hirohisa; Yoshida, Toshio; Omura, Mitsuo (University of Shizuoka). Japanese Society for Horticultural Science. pp. 295-307. Retrieved 2017.
  11. ^ Zhou H.Y.; Shin E.M.; Guo L.Y.; Zou L.B.; Xu G.H.; Lee S.-H.; Ze K.R.; Kim E.-K.; Kang S.S.; Kim Y.S. (2007), "Anti-inflammatory activity of 21(alpha, beta)-methylmelianodiols, novel compounds from Poncirus trifoliata Rafinesque.", European Journal of Pharmacology, 572 (2-3): 239-248, doi:10.1016/j.ejphar.2007.07.005, PMID 17662711
  12. ^ Garcia-Lor, Andres; Curk, Franck; Snoussi-Trifa, Hager; Morillon, Raphael; Ancillo, Gema; Luro, François; Navarro, Luis; Ollitrault, Patrick (2011). "A nuclear phylogenetic analysis: SNPs, indels and SSRs deliver new insights into the relationships in the 'true citrus fruit trees' group (Citrinae, Rutaceae) and the origin of cultivated species". Annals of Botany. 111: 1-19. doi:10.1093/aob/mcs227. PMC 3523644. PMID 23104641.
  13. ^ "Citrus polytrifolia". NCBI Taxonomy Browser. Retrieved 2020.
  14. ^ Froelicher, Yann; Mouhaya, Wafa; Bassene, Jean-Baptiste; Costantino, Gilles; Kamiri, Mourad; Luro, Francois; Morillo, Raphael; Ollitrault, Patrick (2011). "New universal mitochondrial PCR markers reveal new information on maternal citrus phylogeny". Tree Genetics & Genomes. 7: 49-61. doi:10.1007/s11295-010-0314-x.

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