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
Growing Spanish Lime in South Florida:
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
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.
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.
Ledesma is Curator of Tropical Fruit at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.