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Growing Spanish Lime: Melicoccus bijugatus

Botanical Overview

Melicoccus bijugatus, Spanish Lime, is a member of the Soapberry family (Sapindaceae) and distantly related to Lychee. It is not related to Citrus family limes.

Description

Form: Tree.
Lifespan: Over 50 years.
Leaf retention: Evergreen, but briefly deciduous during leaf changeover.
Growth rate: Slow.
Mature Size: 40-80' high and as wide. The tree can be kept pruned to a 7' height.
Flowers: Tiny, greenish-white, 4 petals, fragrant, clustered in spikes 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 male and female trees are usually needed and even self-fruitful cultivars do better with a second male nearby.
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. There is no color change when the fruit are ripe. Tasting is the most reliable method of identifying ripeness. The fruit are more tart than sweet when not ripe. The rind becomes somewhat 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. No thorns.
Roots: The seedlings produce a long taproot. Lateral roots develop with age. The best choice from a nursery is a selected cultivar grafted onto rootstock.
Cultivars of Note:
'Montgomery' Self-pollinating.
'Queen' Self-pollinating, easy seed separation from flesh.
Wildlife: The flowers attract 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.

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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.
Drought tolerant: Not in high temperatures.
Sun: Full sun in moderate temperatures to part shade above 90°F. This plant is intolerant of full shade.
Planting: Locate in part shade in well draining soil. Space the male and female trees 20' apart. If the trees will be pruned every winter to maintain their height at 7', they can be spaced 8' apart. These trees cannot be grown in a container.
Soil: Well drained, low to high in organic content, pH 5.6-7.8 (acidic to slightly alkaline). This plant is moderately salt tolerant.
Fertilize: Apply an organic fertilizer every two months during the growing season. Feed plant micronutrients in irrigation water twice during the growing season.
Water after becoming established: Deep water weekly in hot weather, every two weeks in spring and fall, and every four weeks in winter. The roots are intolerant of flooding.
Mulch: Spread organic mulch inside the drip line and 8" away from the trunk to reduce moisture loss and lessen root area temperature extremes.
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: This tree can be kept pruned to a height of 7' for easier fruit harvesting. Remove grass and weeds around the plant for the first three years to avoid root competition.
Litter: Leaves during leaf-changeover.
Propagation: Cuttings grafted onto rootstock, air layering. Seed must be sown soon after harvest, do not grow true to parent, and are not viable dried.
Uses: Edible fruit, ornamental, shade. Seeds within the fruit can be roasted and then ground into flour or eaten whole.

Comments

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


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Latest update: April, 2021