Lemon tree: everything you need to know

The lemon tree (Citrus Limon) is a fruit tree whose appearance has led it to position itself among the most desired trees for any park or playground. In fact, it is a citrus fruit used as an ornamental tree in many cities in Spain, as is the case with the orange tree.

It is a perennial tree belonging to the Rutaceae family and the citrus genus that is not very resistant to cold due to its tropical character and its permanent flowering. It is also a tree that is very sensitive to soils with high salinity or shallow soils, but the truth is that in many cases it manages to adapt despite being unusual.

The lemon tree is well known for its fruit, the lemon, an edible fruit with an acid flavor and extremely fragrant that is used mainly in food. The lemon tree has a hard wood, with smooth and yellowish bark, highly appreciated for joinery work.


The lemon tree is a tree with a less rounded shape than the orange tree. It is a small tree that does not usually exceed 4 meters in height and whose matte green leaves are perennial and have a very strong lemon scent.

Its leaves are quite long, (from 5 to 10 centimeters) they end in a point and have a slightly jagged edge but, be careful, because they usually have very thick, although short, thorns on their branches. The leaves are bright on the upper side and pale and light green on the underside.

The root is a vertical axis with several secondary roots that are born in disorder and the trunk is thick with gray, smooth or rough and shiny bark.

Its flowers are called orange blossoms , as is the case with the flowers of the orange tree, and they are pinkish white with a multitude of stamens. These are solitary flowers or flowers in clusters, depending on the variety, and thanks to its continuous flowering we can leave the fruit unharvested for longer and do it right in the summer, which is the most profitable time for this tree.

Finally, just mention that two varieties of lemon are consumed in Spain: the table lemon , with more juice and thinner skin, and the verna lemon , with thicker skin. Besides, there are other varieties such as the common lemon, four seasons, real, eureka and many more.

The fruit, the lemon is pale yellow. It is ovoid in shape with a nipple at the tip, about 10 centimeters long, with a juicy pulp divided into segments (8 to 14), with an acid taste. It is a hesperidium, made up of a thin epicarp, which contains the essential oil, a dry and spongy mesocarp, white in color, and an endocarp formed by the membranes that delimit the crickets that contain the juice and seeds. The fruit is the part that is used for its pharmacological properties.

Origin of the lemon tree

The exact origin of the lemon tree is not entirely clear, and remains a mystery; however, it is widely believed that the first lemon trees grew in the valleys of the southern Himalayas , in India, northern Burma and China. In South and Southeast Asia, it was well known for its antiseptic properties and was long used as an antidote for various poisons. It was later introduced to Persia, then Iraq and Egypt around the year 700. Lemons entered Europe (presumably to near southern Italy) around the 1st century BC, during the time of ancient Rome. However, it did not have extensive cultivation.

It was named for the first time in the book on Nabataean agriculture around the 3rd or 4th century. Its cultivation was not developed more extensively in the West until after the Arab conquest, then spreading throughout the Mediterranean coast where it is largely cultivated, due to the climate, for own consumption and for export.

The first really important plantation in Europe took place in Genoa around the middle of the fifteenth century AD. It was exported to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought lemons aboard Hispaniola for his voyages. The Spanish conquest throughout the lands of the New World was expanding the seeds of lemon trees. It is widely used as an ornamental and medicinal plant. Around the 18th and 19th centuries AD, lemon trees progressively increased their presence in the plantations of Florida and California, when lemons gained weight in their use in cooking and as a perfume.

In 1747, James Lind’s experiments on sailors suffering from scurvy showed a substantial improvement when lemon juice was incorporated into their diets.

It is considered one of the most important fruit trees in the world , which is why its cultivation and consumption is carried out with equal importance in the five continents. They are exploited commercially in practically all the countries where the climatic conditions allow them to prosper (they do not tolerate low temperatures). However, the most important producers of lemon trees in the world are the United States, Spain and Turkey. In the southern hemisphere, Argentina, Chile and South Africa stand out.

Nutritional value of lemon

Lemons have a high content of vitamin C (501.6 mg/l) and citric acid (49.88 mg/l).


The lemon tree presents a slight toxicity. However, like all species of the Citrus genus, they contain phototoxic and irritating essential oils that can cause skin reactions (pustules on the lips, dermatitis) in people who are exposed to strong doses of ultraviolet rays. It can also cause some allergies caused by hypersensitivity to lemon. Finally, it is worth mentioning that it attacks dental plaque.

diseases and parasites

The lemon tree is attacked by the white louse (Aspidiotus nerii); This cockroach affects the fruits from their formation to maturity, which represents a significant economic loss for farmers.

There are many other cockroaches that also attack lemon and other citrus, including shingles, comma-shaped, mealybugs and other lice. The attack of the cotonet (Planococcus citri) or the grooved mealybug (Icerya purchasi) is noteworthy. But perhaps the most important commercially is the California red louse (Aonidiella aurantii).

Other pests are:

  • Aphids,  perhaps the most damaging is the black citrus aphid (Toxoptera aurantii).
  • Mites,  red spider, red mite and, especially, the citrus bud mite (Aceria Sheldon) or marigold or bud mite, so named because when it attacks the flower buds it produces deformations in the fruits that acquire strange twisted shapes .
  • Citrus leafminer (Phyllocnistis citrella), produces galleries inside the leaves of green shoots, causing the entry of diseases. This plague is currently not very important on the Iberian Mediterranean coast, since its natural enemies control it adequately. It is only problematic if it affects newly planted trees, for any condition to its few shoots it delays growth considerably, but in adult trees it does not have any problem.
  • Whitefly , especially the cottony whitefly (Aleurothrixus floccosus). Currently, this fly is not a problem in Spain, since its natural enemy Cales noacki is perfectly established and controls whitefly populations. In the case of having problems in a lemon plantation with whiteflies, more than a treatment with a phytosanitary product, it is worth reintroducing its natural enemy.
  • Fruit flies,  the females lay on the fruit through their ovipositor, but the larvae only develop on sweet citrus fruits (oranges, tangerines, grapefruit) because they cannot withstand the acidity of lemons.

varieties of lemon trees

There are several varieties of lemon trees:

  • Bush : This naturalized variety grows wild in subtropical Australia. They are very hardy and have a very thin skin with a very real lemon scent; the skin is very good for the kitchen. It grows up to 4 meters in sunny places.
  • Eureka : Growing abundantly all year round, it is the most common type of lemon in supermarkets.
  • Lisbon : A high-quality lemon, with a large amount of juice and an acid level, the fruits of the Lisbon variety are very similar to those of the Eureka. Vigorous and productive trees are very spiny, particularly when young.
  • Meyer – This is a hybrid between the lemon and possibly the orange or clementine, and is named for Frank N. Meyer, who first discovered it in 1908. The thinner skin and slightly lower acidity than the varieties Lisbon or Eureka make this variety require more care in transport and is not so widespread in terms of commercial fact. It often matures to a yellow-orange color. They are slightly more cold tolerant than other lemons.
  • Ponderosa : This variety is much stronger and more resistant to frost; the fruits are thin-skinned and quite long. It resembles the citron-lemon hybrid.
  • Variegated Pink : A variety of the Eureka or Lisbon with multi-colored patterns on the foliage and a skin of immature green fruit. When it ripens to yellow, the multicolored pattern gradually disappears on the skin of the fruit. The pulp and juice are pink or orange instead of yellow.
  • Verna : Spanish variety of unknown origin.
  • Villafranca
  • Yen Ben : Australian variety.
  • Yuzu : Cultivated in Japan and Korea for centuries, yuzu has an aroma similar to a mixture of Meyer lemon and white grape. Yuzu is close to a wild hybrid between the ichang papeda, a tangerine, and is relatively similar to sudachi and kaffir lime. Yuzu rivals pomelos and kumquats as the most cold-tolerant citrus.

Medicinal use

Traditionally, numerous uses are attributed to it, specifically, to its fruit, the lemon.

It is used to prevent the action of viruses and bacteria, increasing the body’s defenses. That is, it activates white blood cells due to its high content of vitamin C.

As for the respiratory system, it helps fight respiratory infections such as colds and flu.

It is also useful for the digestive system, since it has a regulatory function and stimulates gastric secretions. In addition, it calms heartburn, gastritis and is effective in preventing or stopping vomiting and expelling intestinal parasites.

It is used to treat urinary infections, gout, rheumatic pain, cholesterol, arthritis, thanks to its diuretic and depurative virtues.

In the circulatory system, it not only tones the blood vessels, but also prevents angina pectoris, helps blood circulation, lowers hypertension, stimulates the formation of red blood cells, fights arteriosclerosis and is very suitable for the treatment of anemia.

In external use it is applied to cure irritations, ulcers, insect bites, cold sores, acne, epistasis and in the form of gargles for pharyngitis and sore throat. Also in external use there is evidence of its usefulness in gingivitis, cavities, halitosis, nail fungus, to combat skin impurities, to relax the feet and to relieve the pain of rheumatism.

Alimentary use

In gastronomy, both the pulp of the lemon and its skin are used, often to flavor, for example, in various stews or risottos) or as a condiment, and even the leaves of the lemon tree, which are eaten fried or in fritters. It is used to make desserts or beverages, such as lemonade, and as an ornament for beverages, liqueurs, and foods. Also, for pastries in general (for example, lemon mousse cake, lemon gypsy arms, etc.) and to flavor various dishes.

The lemon was widely used by sailors, who spent long periods at sea without access to other fruits or vegetables, to avoid scurvy, a disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. As lemons could last a long time fresh, captains used them. they provided for the crew so they wouldn’t get sick.

Lemon is one of the essential elements in the composition of a large number of cocktails, mainly as an element of the same cocktail in the form of juice, but also as an ornament and complement, in the form of slices or cuts of the fruit.

Other uses

In perfumery, the skin of the lemon and the essence obtained from the flowers are used. In gardening, dwarf varieties are also used in pots as houseplants.

Lemon is the main ingredient of invisible ink, in which the writing is seen by heating the paper. It is also popularly a negative prize, of bad character, opposite to the orange.

Lemon cultivation

It is one of the citrus fruits that is most sensitive to cold, which is why it is intensively cultivated further south than orange and mandarin trees. On the other hand, it does not need as much heat during the summer, since the fruits are not sweet and for this reason it is also cultivated on a small scale on the coast of Galicia and the Bay of Biscay. It is essential that the soil is well aerated because otherwise the roots will die. It can present iron chlorosis in calcareous soils. You need a lot of magnesium.

To grow well, the lemon tree must be planted in semi-light soils, rich in organic matter, neutral pH and permeable. It needs a temperature between 17 and 28 ° C, it does not support strong frosts or too much wind.

Vegetative growth takes place on the youngest branches in the following three periods:

Spring : the ramifications elongate and young light green leaves are born, very different from the rest of the leaves (which are darker green). On these new ramifications appear fruitful buds (flower bud and, later, flowers).

Summer – The plant sprouts, but the sprouting is less important than the spring and summer sprouts.

Autumn : the plant sprouts. This budding secures the foliage.

It has flowers, fruit in formation and ripe fruit at the same time. The fruits take 10 to 18 months to mature and up to three harvests are made during the year.

World production

India is the main producer of lemons and limes, with about 16% of the total world production, followed by Mexico (14.5%), Argentina (10%), Brazil (8%) and Spain (7%). .

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Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

Robert Asprin

Robert Asprin, APD is a non-dieting Accredited Practicing Dietitian passionate about inspiring positive changes in eating and lifestyle behaviors to help improve health while nurturing relationships with food and body.

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