The word mandarin brings two distinct meanings. Mandarin is a language of communication of a billion people in China. The second mandarin refers to a group of diverse types of citrus fruit originated in China but traveled overseas and have been accepted by multi-billion people, worldwide.
Even as a citrus scientist, it took me a while to understand the intricacies of the citrus mandarin world. Because there are true mandarins,
I have had this question from various people- Master Gardeners, visitors, and homeowners. That means a diverse group of people in this country are eager for a right answer. And here you go.
Mandarin orange is native to southeast Asia. It was grown in large quantities in China and Japan and migrated worldwide in the 19th century. Mandarin, along with pomelo and citron are believed to put the foundation of the modern citrus industry in the world. What we smell, taste, eat and enjoy the many flavors of the citrus family are descendants of mandarins, citrons, and pomelo.
Mandarins are an essential item for the Chinese New Year. 2019, Tuesday, February 5th is no exception. There will be a lot of demand for citrus plants and fruit, especially, mandarins and kumquats. Mandarin and kumquat plants will be in great shape and color during this time of the year. Interestingly, the day after the Chinese New Year is the official Chinese New Year Holiday.
A family friend of us in McAllen, Texas told me an interesting story about the Chinese New Year last year. He was building the Embassy Suites Hotel in McAllen. He had no clue about the impact of the Chinese New Year on his business. He learned a hard lesson to reach his official opening time when depending on many Chinese shipments to arrive in McAllen, Texas.
Now I want to introduce four different citrus types here. They are:
1. Tangerine. Alot of mandarin fruit were exported from North Africa – from the City of Tangiers, and the fruit from Tangiers earned the name in the USA as Tangerine. (All tangerines are mandarins, but not all mandarins are tangerines). Tangerines have seeds, not as sweet as satsuma, and tougher skin to peel, compared to easy peelers.
Fairchild is the name of a famous tangerine.
Tangerines are so tangy!
2. Satsuma. Skin is leathery, easy to peel, and Fruit is sweet and seedless. Fruit easily get damaged in shipment; therefore, not found in many stores. A good patio citrus plant to grow.
3. Clementine Very sweet (like honey). More comfortable to peel than tangerines but not as easy as satsumas. ‘Cuties,’ ‘sweeties,’ and ‘halos’ are common marketing names given- they are not variety names.
4. Tangelos and Honeybells
Originated from a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine. Juicy. Minneola is a popular tangelo or honey bell.
For detailed information, see reference given below on the origin of citrus.
Some mandarin orange history from peer-reviewed sources:
The origin of mandarin oranges traces to south-eastern Asia and the Philippines. Several different introductions made it to the Mediterranean and the USA and elsewhere in the world. Two varieties were taken from Canton to England in 1805. They were adopted into cultivation in the Mediterranean area and, by 1850, and were well established in Italy. An Italian Consul in 1840s imported the Willow-leaf mandarin to New Orleans. The 'Owari' Satsuma reached the USA from Japan (1876-78) and became very popular in US Gulf States. The 'King' mandarin from Saigon reached Riverside, CA, 1882. 'Oneco' mandarin came from India in 1988 to the United States. 'Ponkan' mandarin came from China to Florida, 1892-93. The states of Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Georgia and California grew mandarins commercially. They are more cold-hardy than oranges.
Good News for the Canadians
Perhaps the Canadian citrus enthusiasts can grow different types of mandarins in their backyards on a cold hardy rootstock such as the Poncirus trifoliata. This is in addition to the kumquats. The new technologically advanced and precocious micro-budded plants will enhance the possibilities of growing citrus successfully in Canada.
Guohong et. al., 2018. Genomics of the origin and evolution of Citrus. Nature 554: pages 311-316.