Spanish Lime

Sunday, October 7, 2012

 

BY NORIS LEDESMA

FAIRCHILD TROPICAL BOTANIC GARDEN

As published in the Miami Herald

 

 

Despite the Spanish limes common name, they are not limes at all and are actually more closely related to lychees and longans. The Spanish lime (Melicoccus bijugatus)  is native to Colombia, Venezuela, West Indies and the Bahamas. It thrives in the warmer parts of  Florida with trees growing in Palm Beach and most of South Florida. It seems to fruit most prolifically in Key West.

 

 

Beneath its green skin is a large seed coated in a peach colored flesh, which tastes a bit like a lime. The most common way of eating Spanish limes is to remove the skin and eat the pulp from the seed. They are also made into jams, jellies, pies and drinks. The juice is often added to mixed fruit juices. In Colombia, the peeled fruit are often soaked in rum and sugar to make a delicious beverage. If roasted, the seeds are edible and can be eaten like chestnuts. Spanish lime is a good source of iron, as well as fiber, calcium, Vitamin A, phosphorus and niacin.

 

Growing Spanish Lime in South Florida:

 

In Florida, the Spanish lime is grown as a fruit tree or as an attractive shade tree. The tree is slow growing and has a rounded, spreading canopy. Spanish limes make a good choice for South Florida as they are well adapted to our poor soils and will do well in salty conditions. Trees are not freeze tolerant so cold protection must be provided for young trees by covering the entire tree with a blanket or with a large cardboard box during freezing temperatures.

 

Fertilizing: Young trees do best with regular applications of water, but mature trees can do quite nicely with no supplemental irrigation. A granular fertilizer like an  8-3-9 or similar formulation should be applied in March, June and August. The granular fertilizer should be spread lightly below the drip line. A foliar minor element spray and iron drench should be done in June and August to improve the growth of the tree.

 

Pruning: Young trees should not be pruned their first year but should be allowed to grow. After 2 years shoud be start pruning to keep the tree approximately 7 feet tall. Without pruning, Spanish limes can reach heights of 40 feet or more.

 

Spanish limes typically bloom in the spring, with fruit production starting in the shortly after and continuing until fall depending on the cultivar. The fruit should be harvested when fully ripe. Ripeness is sometimes difficult to determine as the fruit undergo no real color change remaining a dark green. Ripeness is determined by fruit size and if necessary, flavor.

 

 

The Curators of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s Tropical Fruit Program have collected Spanish limes in Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and the backyards of Florida in order to make a collection of superior cultivars. Good choices for home growers are ‘Montgomery’, 'Ponce’, ‘Sosa’, and ‘Jose Pabon’. These trees are now easily found in local nurseries. Spanish limes can be female or male so make sure you buy a female tree that has been grafted or air layered as male trees will not produce fruit.

Noris Ledesma is Curator of Tropical Fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.