Citrus is a genus in the Rutaceae family, and a common term for several edible fruit belonging to this genus. The fruit is a hesperidium - a specialized berry, unique to this family. The inner edible part of the fruit is segmented, filled with juice vesicles ("pulp"). Recent studies have demonstrated that only three of the citrus crops are true species, from the botanical point of view:   pomelo (Citrus maxima), mandarin (Citrus reticulate), and citron (Citrus medica), originally from south-east Asia.

The citron (called etrog in Hebrew), traditionally one of the four species used ritually at Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), was probably the first citrus introduced into our region, during the Persian period (fifth to fourth centuries BCE). The earliest evidence of its appearance in the southern Levant was found recently by Dr. Dafna Langgut from the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. This tree apparently did not grow in our area during the Iron Age (the biblical period), and the association between the citron and the ‘fruit of the goodly tree’ (Leviticus 23:40), was made much later. All other citrus crops (orange, lemon, grapefruit, etc.) are hybrids of these species; a few are natural hybrids but most of them are the result of intentional hybridization.

Citrus fruit have been an important crop in Israel since the mid-19th century, mostly grown along the coastal plane, on “hamra” - red sandy loam soil, and “Jaffa Oranges” are still a well-known brand world-wide. Citrus growing in Israel has declined in the last few decades, as a result of several factors, such as restricted water use, which has led to a rise in water prices, and the subsequent conversion of orchards into new urban areas, etc.

The citrus trees are currently in bloom and ripening their fruits in the little orchard plot in the Garden, and you are welcome to come and take a look.

From left to right: Mandarine, Citron (etrog), citrus blossom, photos: Gavri Sion