Magical Meyer Lemon Trees

Bonnie Nowicki

Lemon tree aficionados take notice! Can anything be yummier than lemon bars, lemon curd, and refreshing homemade lemonade? Meyer lemons are prized because they are sweeter, juicier, less acidic, and completely edible (even the peel).

Some of my Quail Creek neighbors grow Meyer lemon trees and kindly share their plentiful harvest. I wanted to learn more about the “chef’s lemon” (Citrus x meyeri). Like most citrus, Meyer lemons originated in China. Frank Meyer, a renowned plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, introduced them to the United States in 1908, when he brought home a fruiting tree. Scientists believe this yellow-orange round fruit is a genetic cross between a lemon or citron and a mandarin orange. There are standard and grafted dwarf varieties, growing from 6 to 12 feet tall, with fragrant white flowers and some thorny branches. Although, the Improved Meyer lemon tree is nearly thornless.

This hybrid citrus was popular until the 1940s when a virus named tristeza, meaning sadness in Portuguese, infected the trees. Growers feared it would spread to all citrus, so the Meyer lemon was banned in the United States until 1970, when a new virus-free version was developed. This lemon doesn’t store or ship well, hence they’re difficult to find but easy to grow. They thrive in amended, or even poor, soil with a moderate amount of water. Presently, there’s just a few commercial growers in California. To enhance the flavor and juice, leave ripe lemons on the tree for up to three months until ready to use. Now’s the time you may find some in our local stores. Enjoy this totally edible, magical citrus fruit.

Attention Master Gardener wannabes: Next August, The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension will be offering an eighteen-week Zoom course to become a certified Master Gardener. Classes will be three hours long on Tuesdays, and the cost is $200. The actual starting date and more information will follow in the coming months.