While the exact origin of the lemon is unknown, this citrus tree first found its home in southern Italy approximately 2,000 years ago, most likely introduced from northwestern India. Many varieties of lemon cultivars have origins from the early selections grown in Italy, known as Italian lemons. These tropical varieties of fruit trees grow in the warmest areas of the United States, such as Arizona, Southern California, Florida and Texas. Italy is still one of the world's leading exporters of lemons.
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Early Americans imported lemons from Italy up until about 1839 when farmers in Florida began growing lemon trees for commercial production. Grafting and hybridisation techniques continue producing new strains of Italian lemons. Some of the more common types include Femminello Ovale, one of the oldest varieties of Italian cultivars. This lemon tree produces very acidic, juicy fruits that appear slightly rounded at the base. Other varieties of Italian lemons include Femminello Dosaco, Femminello siracusano, Monachello, Interdonato and Sfusato amalfitano.
Italian lemon trees grow to an average height between 10 and 20 feet. Grown in groupings or in orchards, these trees require spacing of about 25 feet. Crowded trees produce less fruit. Regular pruning keeps the trees between 10 and 12 feet tall. Many orchardists severely cut the trees back after about 12 years of growth or replace them with new trees.
Because these trees are in a continual growth state, they are more cold sensitive than some other types of citrus trees. Temperatures colder than -6.67 degrees C severely damage the tree, while warm summer temperatures restrict fruit ripening, making them difficult to grow in most climates. Italian lemon trees grow in infertile, poor soil. They prefer soil pH levels between 5.5 and 6.5. These trees require some protection from harsh, damaging winds.
The fruit of Italian lemon trees ripen different times of the year, depending on the cultivar. Primofiore fruits ripen between September and October, while maiolini and biancucci refer to fruits that ripen between April and May. Unlike some other lemon varieties, Italian lemons intended for exporting require early harvest for transit curing. This harvesting usually occurs when the fruits contain about 25 per cent of their juice content.
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