Poncirus Trifoliata?

January 11, 2004

Anyone know anything about this plant, aka: Japanese Bitter Orange. I've search and some info says the fruit is mildly toxic and some others indicate it isn't. Anyone have experience with it. And how would you use the fruit if it is edible. TIA, trudyjean

Comments (51)

  • carol_the_dabbler

    I've heard that you can make mamalade out of them, which would make use of the peel as well as the pulp. I've heard that some people think the marmalade is nasty tasting and others consider it the best they've ever had.

    In other words, more of a recreational food than a staple.

    They're the only citrus relative hardy enough to grow around here, so I'm considering growing one just to have an "orange tree" in my yard. But for those of you in the warmer zones, there are sufficiently hardy citrus cultivars that are MUCH more edible.

  • trudyjean82

    Thanks for the link, I hadn't seen that site before. It doesn't sound like something I want to deal with. trudyjean

  • lucky_p

    Edible, yes; Tasty, NO. The fruits are mostly seed, with little pulp, and there is a really nasty oil in the rind which makes it difficult to extract much in the way of edible pulp.
    IMO, best planted as an ornamental - especially the 'Flying Dragon' strain, with its contorted limbs and thorns, or as a cold-hardy dwarfing rootstock for edible citrus selections.

  • lostman


    In your area of zone 8, there are plenty of other hybrid varieties you could try if you want edible fruit.

    and a few others too.

    go to and ask.

  • LifeCycleFarm

    I have made marmalade out of these. I used an ordinary recipe from a pectin package, withthe same amount of sugar, which meant that the result was more like an English marmalade that really tastes like oragnes than a commerical US product that's mostly just sweet. It was rather tedious cutting up the small oranges & removing all the seeds, but no more so that making crabapple jelly. Themost interesting part was the resinous substance, which I found would not wash off my knife with soap and water, but had to be removed with rubbing alcohol! However, the marmalade was delicious, and neither I nor anyone else who ate it ever suffered any ill effects. Whatever that resinous substance is, it is obvously quite transformed by cooking.

  • carol_the_dabbler

    Thanks for the first-hand marmalade report, LifeCycle. My husband and I tend to prefer less-sweet jams with complex flavors, so it sounds like I have one more reason to try growing a trifoliate orange tree.

    Some books say they're hardy here and others say they're not. Lucky P, it sounds like you've grown them in Zone 6, just south of here. Can you give me any tips as to when they're likely to have cold-related problems -- for example, are the flower buds susceptible to spring freezes, or is the whole plant likely to die during a cold winter, or what? Or have they grown just fine for you?

    Any info on growing them in marginal climates would help me to choose the best site for mine. Thanks!

  • lucky_p

    There's a trifoliate on the grounds of the community college across from my office that was probably planted in 1970 - it's doing fine, and shows no evidence of experiencing any winter kill - fruits heavily every year; there's a veritable lawn of tiny seedlings surrounding it from each years' fruit production, but the groundskeepers just keep 'em mowed down.

    I've got 2 or 3 Flying Dragon seedlings that have spent the past two winters outdoors, in pots, above ground, without even so much as having mulch piled up around them, and they're unscathed.

    Had a friend who used to live in Cincinnati, and trifoliata did just fine for him there.

  • carol_the_dabbler

    Thanks for the further info, Lucky P. You're something like half a zone warmer than here (and so is Cincy), but if your Flying Dragons are doing well in above-ground pots, that should more than make up for half a zone. Of course, we've had several relatively mild winters lately (though it sure doesn't feel like it today!), but that 30-year-old trifoliate has been through record-breaking cold, assuming that you folks had the same cold snap that we did in '94. Anyway, it sounds worth a try, in a year or two when I have a good start on my new garden/orchard.

  • Sara_in_IN

    I am successfully growing p. trifoliata in the hills of southwestern Indiana, north of Jasper. P t took about 5 years from transplant to fruit, although a spring cold snap killed back all the leaves one year.

    Yes, it is suspectible to frost as it blooms about the same time as the apricots. There were several dozen oranges this year -- finally something the deer don't eat.

    Trifoliata is not a reliable bearer for me, but is a great barrier plant.

    Question for those growing trifoliata for some years -- how large does it become in your region ?

    Sara in IN

  • mrtexas

    100 pounds sugar
    5 gallons of water
    juice of one trifoliate fruit
    rind of one trifoliate fruit
    Boil until jelly coats the back of a spoon.
    Put in jelly jars and store in a place you will forget
    about them. Keeps indefinately

  • cgenecren

    Many years ago an old aunt of mine in southwest TN used these oranges to make a poor version of "lemonade". I don't remember how it tasted.

  • aka_peggy


    I recently saw "flying dragon" growing in the ground at 'Edible Landscapes' in Afton, Va. They had a nice specimen that the owner, Michael...Something? said he planted about 10 yrs ago. This tree was at least 7' tall and was growing in a fairly young orchard, surrounded by taller trees. It wasn't growing in shade but the amount of sun was surely limited.

    This little tree was so beautiful with it's dainty leaves and colorful fruit and contorted branches. So I bought a 3 gal plant, I couldn't help it. It's a bonus if it provides me with nothing more than a beautiful landscape plant.

    If you're growing this tree, please share your experiences. Particularly any pest and disease problems.


  • braspadya

    I've been growing a Poncirus trifoliata "Flying Dragon" for several years now, but it has never flowered or fruited. For those of you who grow it, when does it flower typically?


  • mrtexas

    About 5 years on average.

    Here is a link that might be useful: MrTexas Citrus & Grafting

  • bamboo_baby

    I have just bought a beautiful 4ft Flying Dragon after much searching in UK and Europe, where they are quite hard to come by. My plant suffered a little damage in transit but I have placed the damaged pieces in my mist propagator. Does anyone have experience of cuttings from Flying Dragon? I have used a mild hormone on four cuttings and a strong one (Hormodin 3) on the other four - they are in peat/perlite with gentle bottom heat. I'll keep you posted.....
    A silly question too perhaps...does flying dragon come true from seed?

  • mrtexas

    You can root the cuttings. Some I tried were still green and unrooted after 2 years. About half rooted. It does come true from seed.

  • elder

    Just have to get into the fray - P trifoliata originated in China, and was once grown in northern Europe where the rind from the fruit was candied and dried. This being the case assume it is very cold hardy. The colonists in America also grew P trifoliata as the fruit has a natural pectin which was used in making jellies, etc. In what form, and by what process I don't really know. There are actually old 'trees' growing in old town Alexandria, VA.
    I have quite a stand of them (in northern VA), but have never tried eating or drinking any of their products. My trees reach a height of ten to twelve ft. They bloom early spring (the flowers on my trees being somewhat inconspicuous), have a strong scent and are used heavily by bees. Young plants are used in the citrus trade as rootstock for a variety of smaller citrus. Birds love making their nests in them, I have had as many as three nests in one tree the same spring: mockingbird, dove, and U/I. The thorns WILL puncture pneumatic tires, and the wood is extremely hard and heavy, but too small to be of much value. I would suggest that several trees planted under windows and pruned to a reasonable height would stop intruders quite readily. I have no doubt that they would serve well as a hedge plant if you are interested in keeping in any sort of large livestock......Elder

  • hersh67

    I have been making Poncirus marmalade for three years now and I am very fond of the flavor. I too am tired of oversweet, non-compex flavors and tend to favor some bitters. I make a wonderful citrus-ade from the acid pulp which has a flowery flavor unlike any other citrus fruit.
    If anyone is interested in a real recipe and ways of modifying the bitters in the rind, I will be happy to post it on the forum. I also have trouble with the resin, which is interesting to me as it should make a good incense base, if I could get more than nusiance quantities. The bitter is in the rind, not in the pulp, and parboiling will remove some with each change of boiling water, but over-boiling will remove the pectin from the rind too, so it is a toss-up when making marmalade. I parboil the rinds 5 or 6 times.
    The sparse juice is very sticky and VERY acid. I wash the rinds prior to parboiling to conserve the acid in them and wash the seeds to save that acid. Generally there is not enough pulp to make marmalade, so I de-bitter the rinds and use them.

  • hersh67

    Since a few of you are interested in how to make Poncirus fruit not only tolerable, but delicious I will post my findings from over the last three years.
    I wait until the fruit drops from the tree. It has developed its full flavor and fragrance by this time. Wash the fruit well to get any dirt and sand off. Cull out any that have soft brown spots (these are beginning to rot).
    I use 30 of the ping-pong size fruit per batch. Make a cut equatorially around each orange and twist the halves apart.
    By hand, squeeze and pinch the seeds and sparse juice into a large measuring cup. When all are squeezed and picked free of seeds, I immerse each halfshell in purified water and scrub each with a homemade lime reamer. The regular hand juicers are too big. This gets most of the acid juice free of the shells. Use this water to leach the seeds and pulp to get the acid juice from them also. Save all of these washings for later. You will need all the juice you can scavange for the marmalade, so a second wash and rinse of both shells and seeds is good.
    From here you can either discard the rinds and have a wonderful fragrant fruit-ade base, or save both the juice and half-shells and go on to make marmalade. Now comes the interesting part. The peels are much too bitter to use as is (at least for me), so you must get some of the bitter out now. I parboil the shells by putting them in a big two quart pyrex measuring cup and pouring boiling water over them. Then I put the whole thing in a miocrowave oven and heat until it comes back to boiling. I drain off the very bitter liquid and pour more boiling water over the shells again. Have a big pot full of boiling water going because you will need to repeat the blanching at least five to seven times, just like the first time. After about four blanchings, start tasting the water until the blanch is at least tolerably bitter. During the blanching do not cook the shells too much or that will take out the pectin as well as the bitter. Now you can add four cups of sugar and cover with some of the dilute juice you saved. Cook on slow to soften the rinds and when thick and softened, either hand slice very thin or slice in a food processor. Remove about a third of the sliced material and set aside. Puree the rest and combine the two portions and cook. You should still have some dilute juice left, so as the mash cooks down, keep adding it until it is all in the mix. I cook on defrost or low in the microwave for several hours, stirring to prevent burning. As the marmalade matures, it gets a rich brown and thick. When it is done to suit you, spoon it into sterilized jam jars and seal. I found that in order to check for the proper flavor it is best to cool the marmalade before tasting. Makes about three pints. The resin on your utensiles will wash off with alcohol or acetone. Unfortunately, some utensiles ar also soluble in acetone, so if they are not glass, polyethylene or stainless it is best to use alcohol.
    Let me know how yours turns out. Maybe make a little (1/4 batch) first to see if you like it.

  • hersh67

    I still can't find a really good reason why our Poncirus in Central Texas aren't fragrant. I called my friends in Stone Co. Arkansas and their tree, growing in limestone clay is very fragrant (Our soil is acid red clay and sand in the pines). Both groups have similar fruit and the fruit is very fragrant.
    They had problems getting single plants to thrive, but when they planted whole oranges along the pasture fence, the plants came up in clusters and grew fast. However the donkey ate off the tender ends the first year, but the plants kept growing and as they became taller and harder the donkey let them alone. Now they have a stout, dense hedge around the pasture.
    I have found no pests that will eat the plants, even swallowtails that go after other citrus plants. Domestic grazers and even coons and possums avoid the fruit, except for an occaisional demented cow, hence the orchard in the neighbors corner pasture. The wild trees around here get to be about 15 feet high, and of course with zone 9 mild winters, do not freeze at all. Being oranges they tend to bloom after any summer rain, so frosts can't get them except in early spring.

  • hemnancy

    I had one growing on a south-facing wall and it had no pest problems either but though after several years I finally got a bloom or 2 I finally realized winters here are too cold to ripen the fruit even if it did set any. It has killer thorns, and was spreading out quite a bit. I finally moved it to give something else the nice wall to grow on, but it didn't survive the transplant.

  • covella

    How odd that I should find this thread, I was just thinking about those bitter oranges that grew in Belize when I lived there. They grew wild in cow pastures and were mostly a nuisance, but there were some people, mostly Mennonites who would make a marmalade out of them. I tasted one once and although it wasn't good, it wasn't as bad as some of you have said. Maybe the intense jungle heat and weather alter the taste. Interesting thread.

  • mrtexas

    Delicious bitter Orangade
    Juice of one fruit
    100 pounds of sugar
    5 gallons water
    Mix vigorously and store in a remote location easily forgotten.

  • bonsaist

    I have two growing in pots... Took cuttings last spring and they're still green but no sign of roots. Anyone tried rooting them? I wonder if airlayering branches will work. Is this a self polinated tree? or you need two? I'm thinking of growing one in ground. thanks

  • lucky_p

    There's one growing - in the ground - at the community college across the street from my office. Sets a heavy crop of fruit every year, with no other Poncirus trees around.
    I'm not a citrus expert, but if memory serves me correctly, many citrus are 'nucellular' - the seedlings are genetic clones of the 'mother' tree.

    Well, I looked back through my email archives, and found this little note from a friend who's done a bit of cold-hardy citrus breeding in the past:
    "Citrus seeds vary in zygotic vs nucellar clone rate according to type and variety. Pummelos, lemons, and many tangerines are mostly to all zygotic.
    Meyer lemon is one of those, no clones in it's seeds. For many other citrus,such as grapefruit, oranges, limes, and many tangerines, the nucellar rate is 90 to 99% of seedlings. Most of the time there's no good reason to grow
    citrus from seed, as it suffers from prolonged juvenility, meaning it grows tall and thorny and takes forever to crop. Meyer has been propagated from cuttings for hundreds of years, it roots very easily."

  • fredsbog

    I found this thread while looking for an idea what to do with a large quantity of bitter oranges I was recently given. Here is my version of Poncirus marmalade. It turned out to be quite tasty, though cleaning up all the resin was a pain in the rear!

    40 or so ripe bitter oranges (Poncirus trifoliata)
    5 1/2 cups sugar
    1 package liquid fruit pectin
    1-2 Tablespoon of orange or grapefruit peel

    Juice the oranges. When you get to about 1 1/2 to 2 cups juice/pulp cut it with water to make 3 cups. add the sugar in a large pot and bring to a rolling boil along with the peel. add the pectin return to the boil and boil 1 minute, process as you normally would. Makes 6 cups of very nice marmalade.

  • alabamatreehugger 8b SW Alabama

    A word of caution, the large thorns are VERY painful. I would avoid it if you have small children around.

  • xentar_gw

    Many years ago, I had a sweet orange that had died, but the rootstock lived, and it ended up being a P. Trifoliata. I thought for several years that it was a seville orange but always wondered why the oranges were so much smaller than the seville oranges on the Internet.

    Finally, I figured out that the leaves were the key. Here are some things that they may/may not be good for:

    #1: I've tried to make a lemonade substitute out of these several times, and it never turns out too good.

    #2: One of my neighbors actually comes and gets a bag full every year to add to teas

    #3: We made a marmalade last year with them, and it actually turned out OK, except it was a bit strong and overwelming. The flavor itself was just like a storebought maramalade but some of the bitterness was a bit more prevalent.

    I believe a mistake I made with the marmalade was that I used a blending juicer as opposed to a press-type, which got way too much of the bitter parts of the orange in the juice. The right combination of stuff will make a great marmalade, I'm sure.

  • ishuku

    I know this is an old thread, but I just wanted to add that I found one of these plants growing wild in my neighborhood and collected several of the highly fragrant fruit (almost like a citrusy jasmine scent) without knowing what they were. After identifying the plant, I cut two of the fruit open and tasted the juice-- Maybe this is a different cultivar, but though it was quite sour, it hardly bitter at all. I squeezed the juice and some pulp by hand into a big mug, added a few spoonfuls of sugar, and diluted it with water. It's actually quite pleasant. Now to get this resin off of my hands...

  • skelly510_gmail_com

    I chuckle at those who want to grow these interesting fruit but I am desperate in finding ways to kill the plant. My aunt has a farm that is being overrun by these plants. We are afraid to put cattle on the pastures in fear they will ingest some of the thorns from the plant. They are literally taking over the pastures.
    Any suggestions on chemical ways to kill the plant?


  • crispy_z7

    I just found a mature poncirus trifoliata tree in the town where I live.
    I took some home to "experiment", and this is my opinion:
    The fruit I tried were very sour and bitter, but not any more so than a grapefruit.
    Like others have said, there is very little juice or pulp compared to the number of seeds (I had average of 30 seeds to each ping pong ball size fruit. )

    They have a flowery/citrusy/resiny smell/flavor to them. Definitely not for eating out of hand, but the juice could be used as a lemon substitute in drinks and recepies.

  • jerseygirl1606

    Just found this thread. We were in Nevis last month and they use sour oranges there in the local rum punch (when the monkeys don't eat them all). If I can get more than a couple of oranges from our trifoliate (it's in some shade and doesn't get much fruit), I'm going to try to make rum punch with them. The recipe is: one of sour, two of sweet, three of strong, four of weak - sour orange, simple syrup, rum, water or ice - it's delicious!

  • skyjs

    Mine just fruited this year. I think they taste good fresh! Like hersh and some others, I prefer complex tastes to just sweet and bland. I also like how I can use the zest because I grow them organically in my yard. I would agree that they are less bitter than grapefruits. They do have that resin. Mine came off the knife with one drop of olive oil. They are used medicinally: anti cancer, anti inflammation, and anti allergies in N. CHina and Korea. It is exciting in the diversified permaculture sense to have a member of this family producing fruit in my yard. Normally I just cut them into quarters and eat them like an orange quarter in my mouth. I did make a sort of fake marmalade with chopped up quince, trifoliate orange and zest, garlic and chile. It's great for when you're fighting a virus!
    John S
    PDX OR

  • clarkinks

    Trying Poncirus Trifoliata in zone 5b outside and will let you know how it does this winter. I tried them in pots 2 years ago and they lived through one winter and died the next winter.

  • andy_m_ch


    I have a trifoliate orange tree in my garden. I'm not sure of the age but I've had it for about 4 years and I don't know how long the nursery had it before that. It was already about 4 foot something when it came. Every year I had high hopes that it might flower but it never did. Then this year the unexpected happened and it not only flowered but bore so much fruit that it bordered on craziness. There must be 40 to 50 of the things.

    Several of these have already fallen off the tree and I cut into one just out of interest and sucked out the juice. In contrast to what some people say, the juice is not difficult to wash off. Just holding my hands under running water was sufficient. Also the taste may be a bit on the bitter side but its not unpleasantly so and I'm sure that by adding a hint of sugar or maybe mixing with something slightly sweeter else it could become very drinkable. Also, this being more than a week ago I haven't suffered any symptons of posioning so I'm not sure whether the toxicity isn't being overstated.

  • Yolanda

    They are native here in middle GA and I live them enough to use them in tea - I only use the juice and discard the seeds and rind. They smell wonderful, are beautiful on the bush, and I have pruned them as dangerous hedges for under a few windows to keep thieves out (or my cats).

    I have the Flying Dragon type. They come true from seed and self-seed a bit too much if I miss a fruit.

    I'd LOVE to trade these with people. I recommend them. I personally think they taste and smell just like lemon. The fruits go bad somewhat quickly, though. In the future, I'll juice them, put the juice into baby food jars to freeze, so I can extend their usefulness to me. I don't have enough yet to make marmalade.

  • lukedishwalker

    I would love to acquire as many of the Flying Dragon fruits or seeds you could spare of the Flying Dragon. I have a Hamlin Orange that is over 35 years old that tastes different than the newer grafted trees. I want to propagate the variety I have.

  • mr grey

    wynnho, i would like to trade for a handfull of Flying Dragon seeds!

  • Francesco Delvillani

    P. trifoliata is a deciduos can take -15F, flowers in April, and ripes the fruits in autumn....very ornomental plant and can be used to make Jam

  • skyjs

    Make sure you send them quickly and keep them moist. They are not like apple seeds. If they dry out, they won't germinate. John S

  • andy_m_ch

    Mine has flowered for a second time this summer and now besides the fruits that came from the spring blossoms, that are growing just fine, there is a second set of smaller fruits also growing rapidly. This is the first time my tree has atempted to carry a second crop in the same year.

    I don't know if there is a connection but we had a nasty hailshower in the early summer that knocked about two thirds of fruit off the tree.

  • Francesco Delvillani

    Also several hybrids with Poncirus have can flower twice in a year :)

  • Francesco Delvillani

    It's the hardiest of can survive in zone 6 or less. It loses its leaves in winter and gives a very nice flowering during spring (April)...the fruits become yellow during fall but they are not's used as Rootstock for many other citrus and it's been used for breeding with other citrus to obtain a cold-hardy citrus that had tasty fruits :)

  • Nancy Clayton

    While visiting Longwood Gardens last week, I found some P trifoliate that had fallen to the ground and took one home with me. I almost bled to death trying to get to the name tag hanging from a branch to find out what it was! LOL Holy smoke, this golf ball sized fruit had 21 seeds. Hearing from this thread how bitter it tastes, agreed, I decided to try something different and squeeze a bit into my Absolut on the rocks. Bingo! I'm planting these seeds TOMORROW! No more need to buy limes (5 years from now!)

  • andy_m_ch

    I like the idea of using them as a replacement for limes when mixing drinks. Any idea about the supposedly poisonous aspect? Is this just urban legend?

  • Nancy Clayton

    I'm still here after last night's cocktail. LOL. The standard response for edibles is do your due diligence and research the plant from multiple reliable sources. Don't rely on just one.

  • barbara_kelly5617

    Nancy Clayton, I don't know if you are still following this thread, but if you are and live in the general area of Longwood Gardens, I'm about 45 minutes south, just over the MD line off Rt. 1 and have a hardy Poncirus Trifoliata that you can have seedlings from. I grew mine from seedlings and it's about 8 high and had it for about 20 years.
    I'll be happy to share with you.

  • andy_m_ch

    Just wondering. There have been many comments here about growing trifoliate orange from seed. Is there any other way, that maybe leads to faster results? Can they be grown fron cuttings for example (I understand that some citrus types do propagate from cuttings, but never tried it myself)

  • crispy_z7

    The only way to "faster results" is to get one that someone else started from a seed. I've grown about 30 of these poncirus trees from seeds, and they can grow pretty fast if fertilized with miracle grow or something similar. I've had a few go from seed to fruiting trees in about 5 years. I have one that I grew from seed that's probably about 6-7 years old now and it's been covered with fruit each fall for the last two years, and had a few the year before that.
    Growing from cuttings is not going to make it any faster, the point of taking cuttings is to have an exact replica of an existing plant, for instance if you want a Granny Smith apple, then you take a cutting from that kind of tree.

  • creekweb

    Okay this made a pretty good lemonade. I used one orange per cup of lemonade. The oranges I used had fallen from the tree and had no signs of spoilage. I cut in half and removed whatever seeds were sticking out and then used a hand tool (reamer type) for removing the juice from each half. I then removed the seeds that had been mixed up with the juice, added 1.5 packets of stevia, mixed and added water and ice.

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