Lemon tree mystery

So when my parents bought the house in the late 70s, the backyard came with a lemon tree. According to the previous owners- the tree was a Meyer lemon.

It’s a pretty tree, and a real productive one. It’s main season is winter of course, when all citrus tends to fruit- but this tree tends to fruit pretty much all year round, it just fruits the most in Winter and Spring.

I largely neglect it. No seriously- I’d worry that if I did anything to the tree I’d somehow kill it! I water it weekly in the hottest part of summer and fall and once 4 years ago I put some citrus fertilizer at its base. It’s never been pruned. We just leave it alone and this 30+ year old citrus tree just does it’s own thing and give us lemons.

So. Many. Lemons.

Now they’re big like Meyer lemons- but poking closely you can tell they’re more yellow than yellow-orange like Meyers tend to be.

The pith is also a little weird.

As you can see the pith is fairly thick. The ratio of fruit to pith is not what I’d expect from a Meyer lemon, or at least it’s not like any Meyer lemon I’ve ever bought.

But- the fruit is not overly bitter- sweet as far as a lemon goes while still being tart, and the peel is super fragrant. Seriously the biggest culinary use of these lemons is the zest- cookies, lemon cakes, sauces, the zest is amazing. Which does track with a Meyer lemon.

As for this specimen, dad ate it.

Seriously- I cut it into wedges and he ate it like apple slices.

Big bowl of lemons for dad.

He just… eats them. Whole- peel, pith and all.

I mean- it’s a healthy snack but…


So the modern Meyer lemon is the “improved Meyer lemon” which got popular in the 50s as a way to combat a disease that was sweeping through lemon orchards.

What if the reason this tree is weird is that it’s an OG Meyer? If it was planted when the house was built in the 40s it would be an original Meyer, and since it was a residential lemon tree it was never culled like the orchard trees on citrus farms.

It’s just a theory. The tree might not be a Meyer at all, but some other type of hybrid sweet-ish lemon.

I’m tempted to dig out a seed from my next lemon and try to see if I can get it to sprout.

Not sure what that would tell me other then just be kinda fun.


5 thoughts on “Lemon tree mystery

  1. ‘Meyer’ lemon. That is what this is. Although the skin is thick and yellower than it should bbe, it is within the normal range. The thickness is likely the result of the mild summers there. That is how they look in Montara, where it does not get too warm in summer. In the Farm Hills of Redwood City, the skin is not quite as thick. In Saratoga, Los Gatos and other warmer parts of the Santa Clara Valley, they skin is quite thin, more orangish, and very aromatic! The thin skinned fruits are more appealing on the outside, and generally more orangish on the inside, but the flavor should not be too different. The fruit can be eaten like a sour orange, and is actually less sour than the ‘Rangpur’ lime (which is actually a sour Mandarin orange). Some might say that it is less sour than the ‘Seville’ sour orange. Because it is a hybrid between a sour lemon and a sweet orange (‘sweet’ and ‘sour’ are technical designations), it is very genetically variable. Therefore, seed grown trees would not likely produce similar fruit, and could produce something extremely different. The ‘Shawb’ rough lemon that used to be used for understock of standard trees is the same sort of hybrid, but makes rather worthless fruit with loose skin that allows the fruit to oxidize fast. Also, seed grown trees are juvenile for many years, so would produce very fastigiate growth with nasty thorns until they mature. The only reason home garden trees lack the nasty thorns and fastigiate form is that they were grown from adult growth. By the way, until about the late 1990s, ‘Meryer’ lemon was one of only two that I work with that was not grafted. It was grown on its own roots. Therefore, it should not get genetically different suckers from below a graft like other citrus trees do. Also, the only difference between the original ‘Meyer’ lemon, and the ‘Improved Meyer’ lemon is that the ‘Improved Meyer’ was indexed from the original ‘Meyer’ lemon to eliminate an innate virus that the original parent had from the beginning. (Indexing is merely cloning from very tiny bits of meristematic tissue that grew faster than it could be infected by the virus. It is a lengthy process that involves MANY clones to find just one without the virus, but it was successful. Anyway, because the symptoms of the virus are difficult to detect among healthy trees, the original and improved cultivars are nearly impossible to distinguish from each other.
    Wow, sorry to leave such a long message.

    1. This is great! Thanks for all the info! So it’s the mild summers that make it non-standard… it is very fragrant like a regular Meyer- it is a very old (possibly 60+ year old) tree too, which probably doesn’t help things.

      1. Yes, the climate affects the fruit, which is why it is ‘atypical’. (‘Standard’ means something different among citrus. Unlike the dwarf citrus trees that are grafted onto dwarfing rootsotock for home gardens, ‘standard’ citrus trees are grafted onto ‘standard’ rootstock so that they get much bigger for orchard production. Because ‘Meyer’ lemon trees were normally not grafted, there was no distinction between ‘dwarf’ or ‘standard’. However, now that they are grafted, I really do not know if some are dwarf (or more dwarfed) or standard.) Because yours is so old, it likely predates development of (or at least the popularity of) the ‘Improved Meyer’ cultivar, although you would not likely notice a difference unless you propagated a whole bunch of the same for orchard production.

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