The Spanish lime (Meliococcus bijugatus) is a medium-to-large tree native to the Caribbean region of Tropical America. It is often known in these areas as 'genip' or 'mamoncillo'.
This tree is not known widely in Florida because of its tenderness to cold, and is best known in the extreme southern portion of the state and the Florida Keys. In its native areas, it is widely found over a broad range of soil conditions, but it seems especially adapted to dry areas with poor rocky soils.
Trees grow two to three feet a year and bloom period occurs in Florida usually in April, with the fruit ripening from July through October. Although trees often bloom quite well, many set few fruits and this is because the trees are polygamous, often producing flowers that are both bisexual and those which are only of one sex. Most bisexual flowers are non-functional and do not set fruit unless cross-pollination occurs. Isolated trees rarely set fruit, and for best fruiting, plant several trees together in close proximity so that adequate cross-pollination will occur.
The fruits hang in clusters near the terminals of the tree and look like large grapes; fruit size generally is about an inch to two inches in diameter. Inside the tough greenish skin lies a layer of thin sweetish-tart orangy-yellow pulp surrounding a large seed. Some varieties of Spanish lime are sweet, while others are very acid.
The pulp adheres to the seed in most cases, making removal of the pulp difficult. There are some varieties, however, that are said to be freestone, and the pulp separates cleanly from the seed.
Spanish lime is propagated by seed, or better varieties can be air-layered or grafted. There is much variation among seedling trees in yield and fruit quality so it is always best where possible to buy grafted or air-layered trees to get superior fruit. Some named varieties available in Florida at the present time include 'Queen', 'Montgomery' and others.
Trees both young and large are quite cold-sensitive, and should be planted in areas where they are protected from freezing temperatures. Mature trees will tolerate only a brief exposure to below-freezing temperatures without serious damage, and small trees are badly damaged or killed if temperatures fall to the freezing point.
In the landscape, for increased production, fertilize Spanish lime with a fruit-tree type fertilizer every four months during the year. Although quite drought-tolerant, trees will grow and produce greater quantities of fruit if irrigated, especially during the spring dry season. Trees seem to have very few insect or disease pests, and rarely require any spraying for problems.
DATE: May 1995
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