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Trifoliate Orange Citrus trifoliata

Other Common Name(s):

Other plants called Trifoliate Orange:

Previously known as:

  • Poncirus trifoliata
Phonetic Spelling
SIT-rus try-foh-lee-AY-tuh
This plant has low severity poison characteristics.
See below
Description

Trifoliate orange or hardy orange is a deciduous thorny shrub or small tree in the Rutaceae (citrus) family native to China.  The species name trifoliata is Latin for three leaved and refers to the glossy dark green three lobed leaves of this plant.

It prefers well drained, acidic soil in a sunny location and grows up to nearly 20' tall. This plant blooms in mid-spring and the showy orange fruit ripens in early fall. Thorns are sharp and numerous and are not for high traffic areas. It is intolerant of shady sites and it not partiularly winter hardy.  Prune after flowering and this shrub is easily transplanted. 

The lemon-like fruit is exceedingly sour and full of seeds. If eaten in large quantities, the high acidity can cause severe stomach pain and nausea. Some people experience minor skin irritation with prolonged contact. While the peel and the pulp can be used to make marmalade, the fruit is often left on the tree to provide beauty well into winter.

This plant may be pruned into a thick, impenetrable hedge or barrier planting, its thorns deterring entry.   With its evergreen leaves and large orange fruits, it adds excellent winter character as a specimen planting.

Quick ID Hints:

  • Lemon-like, fall-ripening, sour fruit
  • Trifoliate leaves with winged petioles
  • Bright green twigs and numerous, long green spines

Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems:  No serious pest or disease problems.  It can be weedy and is considered invasive in some states.

See this plant in the following landscape:
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Flying Dragon'
    Contorted, twisted stems.
'Flying Dragon'
Tags:
#fragrant#thorns#showy flowers#drought tolerant#shrub#weedy#deciduous shrub#winter interest#accent plant#security plant#high maintenance#showy fruits#hedges#edible fruits#screening#fantz#orange fruits#problem for children#barrier
 
Cultivars / Varieties:
  • 'Flying Dragon'
    Contorted, twisted stems.
'Flying Dragon'
Tags:
#fragrant#thorns#showy flowers#drought tolerant#shrub#weedy#deciduous shrub#winter interest#accent plant#security plant#high maintenance#showy fruits#hedges#edible fruits#screening#fantz#orange fruits#problem for children#barrier
  • Attributes:
    Genus:
    Citrus
    Species:
    trifoliata
    Family:
    Rutaceae
    Life Cycle:
    Woody
    Recommended Propagation Strategy:
    Seed
    Country Or Region Of Origin:
    Central and northern China
    Edibility:
    This plant is edible
    Dimensions:
    Height: 8 ft. 0 in. - 20 ft. 0 in.
    Width: 6 ft. 0 in. - 15 ft. 0 in.
  • Whole Plant Traits:
    Plant Type:
    Edible
    Poisonous
    Shrub
    Tree
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Habit/Form:
    Dense
    Oval
    Growth Rate:
    Slow
    Maintenance:
    High
    Texture:
    Medium
    Appendage:
    Thorns
  • Cultural Conditions:
    Light:
    Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
    Soil pH:
    Acid (<6.0)
    Soil Drainage:
    Good Drainage
    Available Space To Plant:
    6-feet-12 feet
    12-24 feet
    NC Region:
    Coastal
    Mountains
    Piedmont
    USDA Plant Hardiness Zone:
    5a, 5b, 6b, 6a, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9b, 9a
  • Fruit:
    Fruit Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Fruit Value To Gardener:
    Edible
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Display/Harvest Time:
    Fall
    Fruit Type:
    Berry
    Fruit Length:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Width:
    1-3 inches
    Fruit Description:
    Fruits are modified berries (hesperidium), dull lemon-yellow like a small orange, fragrant when ripe, sour, many-seeded with thick peel and oil glands. The peel is also rough. Though sour, the juice can be used to flavor beverages. It can be used to make marmalade.
  • Flowers:
    Flower Color:
    White
    Flower Value To Gardener:
    Fragrant
    Showy
    Flower Bloom Time:
    Spring
    Flower Petals:
    4-5 petals/rays
    Flower Size:
    1-3 inches
    Flower Description:
    Flowers are white, 5-petaled, axillary, solitary in leaf axils, and aromatic.
  • Leaves:
    Woody Plant Leaf Characteristics:
    Deciduous
    Leaf Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Green
    Leaf Feel:
    Glossy
    Deciduous Leaf Fall Color:
    Gold/Yellow
    Leaf Type:
    Compound (Pinnately , Bipinnately, Palmately)
    Leaf Arrangement:
    Alternate
    Leaf Shape:
    Elliptical
    Obovate
    Leaf Margin:
    Crenate
    Serrate
    Hairs Present:
    No
    Leaf Description:
    Leaves are alternate and trifoliate. Leaflets are obovate to elliptic, emarginate, acuminate, crenate to serrate, and the terminal is larger than the laterals. Petiole is winged. 3 leaflets emerge yellow-green and turn dark green in the summer. They are yellow in the fall.
  • Bark:
    Bark Color:
    Green
    Bark Description:
    Green-striped.
  • Stem:
    Stem Color:
    Green
    Stem Is Aromatic:
    No
    Stem Cross Section:
    Angular
    Stem Description:
    Spiny, thorny.
  • Landscape:
    Landscape Location:
    Woodland
    Landscape Theme:
    Winter Garden
    Design Feature:
    Accent
    Barrier
    Border
    Hedge
    Screen/Privacy
    Security
    Specimen
    Problems:
    Contact Dermatitis
    Poisonous to Humans
    Problem for Children
    Spines/Thorns
    Weedy
  • Poisonous to Humans:
    Poison Severity:
    Low
    Poison Symptoms:
    Causes only low toxicity if eaten. Skin irritation minor or lasting only for a few minutes.
    Poison Toxic Principle:
    Oil and saponic glycoside
    Causes Contact Dermatitis:
    Yes
    Poison Part:
    Fruits