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Growing Spanish Lime: Melicoccus bijugatus

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Melicoccus bijugatus, Spanish Lime, is a member of the Soapberry family and distantly related to Lychee. The Melicoccus genus has two species, both known for their edible fruits. It is not related to the Citrus family nor to true limes.


Form: Tree.
Lifespan: Over 50 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen, but briefly deciduous for leaf changeover.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 80' high and as wide.
Flowers: Small, greenish-white, 4 petals, fragrant, clustered at the ends of branches. Male and female flowers appear on different trees, but a few trees have flowers of both sexes, though not in equal amounts.
Bloom: Mid to late spring.
Self-fruitful: A few cultivars are. Both a male and a female tree are usually needed.
Years before fruiting: 7-10 years from seed. 4-5 years if grafted.
Fruit: Oval to round, with thin, smooth green skin, and peach-colored, gelatinous flesh. Each fruit contains 1-2 large seeds which are coated with fibers on most cultivars. The flavor varies between trees, usually being described as sweet-tart or like a lime, but delicious. The fruit are eaten raw by peeling the rind and sucking the flesh off the seed. Juice from Spanish Lime fruit must be treated with care because it makes a permanent brown stain on fabric.
Months for fruit to ripen: 3. The fruit are more tart than sweet when not ripe. The rind becomes more brittle when ripe.
Storage after harvest: The fruit may last several months in refrigeration if the skin is unbroken.
Leaves: Green, lance-shaped leaflets in groups of four. This tree produces dense shade.
Stems: The trunk has smooth gray bark and may eventually grow to 2' in diameter.
Roots: The seedlings produce a long taproot. Lateral roots develop with age. The best choice from a nursery is a selected cultivar, air-layer grafted onto rootstock.
Cultivars of Note:
'Jose Pabon'
Wildlife: Attracts hummingbirds and bees.
Toxic / Danger: Unripe fruit are mildly toxic and may cause hypoglycemia in susceptible individuals. The seeds can be a choking hazard to young children.
Origin: South America.

Melicoccus bijugatus fruit and leaves

Cultivation and Uses

USDA hardiness zones: 9-12. Young trees are hardy only to 32°F. Cold hardiness gradually improves with age, and very old trees may withstand 20°F, although small branches and leaves will be killed.
Chill hours: None.
Heat tolerant: All day part shade and extra water are needed above 90°F.
Sun: Full sun to part shade. Intolerant of full shade.
Drought tolerant: Yes, especially in winter.
Water after becoming established: At least weekly in hot weather, every two weeks in spring and fall. The roots are intolerant of flooding.
Soil: Well drained, low to high in organic content, moderately salt tolerant, pH 5.6-7.8 (acidic to slightly alkaline).
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer every two months during the growing season. Feed citrus micronutrients twice during the growing season.
Mulch: Provide a 2-6" layer of organic material, keeping it 8-12" from the trunk, to reduce moisture loss.
Spacing: 20-25' between trees, 25' from any structure.
Planting: This tree cannot be grown in a container.
First Year Care: Water twice a week in high temperatures. Protect from freezing during the first 3 years. Do not prune the first 2 years to speed growth.
Prune: Remove grass and weeds around the seedling for the first three years to avoid competition.
Litter: Leaves during leaf-changeover.
Propagation: Air layers grafted onto rootstock. The seed cannot be dried or frozen, must be used soon after harvest, and do not grow true to the parent.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental, shade. Seeds within the fruit can be roasted and then ground into flour or eaten whole.


The natural northern range for this tree is the north coast of Mexico's Gulf of California. Other common names are quenepa, in Mexico and Puerto Rico; mamoncillo or mamón in Cuba, Costa Rica, Honduras, Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Venezuela; and guineps in Jamaica.

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Latest update: December, 2018