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January Fruit of The Month: Ichang Papeda And Its Amazing Hybrid Offspring.

January Fruit of The Month: Ichang Papeda And Its Amazing Hybrid Offspring.

The Ichang Papeda (Citrus ichangensis) is the hardiest of the evergreen citrus, said to withstand temperatures down to 0 degrees F. It is a tough, spiny, small tree growing wild on steep hillsides in the Himalayan foothills. Though its fruit is marginally edible, small, thick skinned, seedy and somewhat bitter with limited juice, it does make  an interesting and attractive ornamental. Its most important use is in hybridizing with other citrus species to create super cold hardy, yet highly edible varieties.

One of our favorites of these here on the farm is the Shangjuan. It is a natural cross originating in China of Citrus ichangensis and C. maxima, the pummelo. Also called the Ichang Lemon, the Shangjuan, which means “fragrant ball” in Chinese, produces masses of large, juicy, yellow lemon like fruit. Somewhat rough skinned and with a generous amount of seeds that can be easily removed, each fruit can give up to ½ cup of good quality juice that can be used for fresh or for cooking and desserts. These fruits ripen October- January  for us, starting a full month before our Meyer lemons, giving us an abundant supply of high vitamin C juice at a time when it is most needed. When fully ripe the fruits have a good grapefruit taste and can be eaten as such, especially with a little sweetening. This easy to grow vigorous evergreen tree makes a great ornamental, its broad glossy dark green leaves giving year round beauty. Fragrant white spring blooms are followed by a heavy crop of fruit in the fall. The Shangjuan is considered hardy down to 5 to 10 degrees, which gives it adaptability to many areas where commercial citrus cannot be grown.

Another popular hybrid is the Yuzu, an ancient natural cross of Citrus ichangensis X C.reticulata. In the past it was called C.junos. The Yuzu originated in east Asia and grows wild in central China and Tibet. It was introduced to Japan and Korea during the Tang dynasty and has become a very popular fruit in these countries. The fruit ripens in the fall and is about the size of a tangerine. It has a fragrant juice similar to a lemon that is much esteemed in Japanese cooking. The spicy rind is also used as a flavoring. In Japan several fruits are wrapped in cheesecloth and floated in a hot bath for their relaxing scent. In Korea a syrup is made from the fruit and added to hot water as a remedy for the common cold and other winter illnesses. The upright evergreen tree is very hardy, able to withstand temperatures in the 5 to 10 degree F range. Even if defoliated the fruiting wood can survive to bear the next year. Like the Shangjuan it has lustrous green leaves, fragrant white flowers, showy fruit and many thorns.

The Ichang Papeda is also used in breeding programs to develop cold hardy citrus. It has been found to have a better ability to convey cold hardiness without compromising fruit quality than its deciduous relative the Trifoliate orange. Who knows what interesting and useful Ichang hybrids await us in the future.

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