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Citrus Types and Cultivars

The Sweet Orange is the citrus type that makes up the largest portion of production and exports from southern Africa: sweet oranges. Oranges make up about two thirds of the citrus exports. Of the oranges that are exported, one third is navels and two thirds valencias. Among these, soft citrus is a group of fruit that is also referred to as easypeelers or, in the common tongue, naartjies. The main characteristic that these fruit
have in common is that they are easy to peel and tasty, making them the ideal snack fruit.

Lemons are always available, and the average consumer expects to be able to buy them even in the middle of the summer.

Grapefruit is the last citrus type. Its varieties share a distinctive tangy, sweet flavour. Grapefruit is a popular breakfast fruit, and for making marmalade. The three most common grapefruit cultivars are star ruby, marsh and rosé.

Navel Oranges

Navel oranges are named for the protuberance at the blossom-end of the fruit. It looks a little like a belly-button, but is actually is a small embryonic fruit. Navels are seedless, medium to large in size, and is a lovely yellow-orange colour when ripe. The fruit is easy to peel, and is known as a premier dessert fruit. The fruit shape and flesh colour varies depending on the cultivar.

Navels do well in the cooler production areas, where the night temperature drops considerably during the autumn. Remember that rind colour development in citrus depends on night temperatures dropping below 13°C while day temperatures are still relatively high.

The major production regions for navels are the Eastern Cape, cooler areas of the Limpopo province and the Western Cape. The major commercial navel cultivars are Palmer, Bahianinha, Navelate, Washington and Cambria. There are cultivars that mature from as early as late- March and April, while the late varieties stretch into the season as late as August.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets

Valencia Oranges

Valencias alone account for 44% of citrus exported from southern Africa, with 40% of hectares under citrus being used to produce valencia cultivars.

The fruit are medium to large, with a nice orange rind that is not too thick and have a smooth, finely pebbled texture. Valencias have a relatively high acid content and a high sugar content, which means that it has a lot of flavour and is delicious. It also has a high juice percentage. This makes Valencia oranges ideal for juicing and for eating fresh.

Valencias are suited to hot, humid areas. Two thirds of the valencias are produced in the Limpopo province and Mpumalanga, with the only other significant production being in the Eastern Cape, where we find 16% of the total planted hectares.

Midknight (technically a midseason orange), Delta valencia, Valencia Late, and Turkey valencia are the cultivars that are produced most, accounting for about 85% of the hectares used for valencia production. Turkey valencia is the first cultivar to mature, and are ready for harvesting from about the last week in May in the warmer production areas. The last Valencia cultivars mature around September.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets


Satsuma cultivars are the earliest ripening soft citrus fruit. The fruit is usually seedless, with a loose rind that peels very easily. The most popular Satsuma variety is Miho Wase, making up 85% of the satsuma production.

Miho Wase is also the cultivar that matures the earliest of the Satsuma cultivars, and can be harvested from as early as mid-March. Other Satsuma cultivars are harvested until around the end of May.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets


Clementine is the premier soft citrus variety. The fruit is easy to peel and if they are grown in exclusive blocks away from cross-pollinating varieties, they are seedless. When mature, the peel turns a lovely bright orange, and the flesh has a distinctive sweet flavour.

The most popular clementine cultivar is Nules, which accounts for about 75% of planted hectares. The earliest commercial clementine cultivar mature towards the end of March, with the last one finishing around mid-June.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets


Mandarin hybrids are similar to clementines. Mandarins are also excellent eating fruit, with a reasonably thin rind. The colour of the rind and flesh can vary from gold to deep reddish orange, depending on the cultivar.

Nadorcott is the most common mandarin cultivar, and accounts for about two thirds of the hectares planted with mandarin cultivars. Early mandarin cultivars are ready to be harvested around mid-May, and the season from there stretches as late as September.

Novas and minneolas are cultivars that are marketed under the mandarin umbrella, but which are actually separate varieties.

Novas are larger than other soft citrus fruit, and are not as easy to peel. The flesh of the Nova is deep orange and has a distinctive aroma. The segments are juicy, tender and sweet. They are harvested from April to mid-June.

The minneola is a hybrid grapefruit and tangerine. It tends to be a big fruit with a distinctive nipple at the stem-end of the fruit. When mature the rind is deep orange, and the flesh is juicy and aromatic, with a good, tangy flavour. They are ready to be harvested from mid-May to the end of July.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets

Lemons and Limes

Everybody is familiar with lemons – they are used fresh for cooking and in drinks, and lemon juice is a must-have in many kitchens. They are always available, and the average consumer expects to be able to buy them even in the middle of the summer.

Limes on the other hand are not as common. They are smaller, round and green in colour. They are not produced in South Africa in large volumes, because they need very hot and humid growing conditions.

The appearance and characteristics of lemon fruit vary considerably by cultivar, but they all have one characteristic in common – they are very sour. Lemons is the fastest growing citrus variety, and it has been extremely profitable for the last three or four seasons.

About half the lemons in South Africa is grown in the Eastern Cape, with the Limpopo province in second position. These two provinces together with the Western Cape account for 90% of lemon production.

The main lemon cultivar that is commercially grown in South Africa is the Eureka lemon, on its own accounting for about 85% of the planted hectares. The rind of the Eureka is smooth and reasonably thin, and a bright to golden yellow colour when the fruit is mature. The fruit has a high acid and juice content. There is also a seedless Eureka cultivar.

Eureka lemons can have as much as three fruit sets. This means that at the same time there can be as much as three lots of fruit on a tree that are at different stages of maturity. Because of this characteristic, trees can produce marketable fruit from as early as February in hotter areas, and to as late as mid-September in cooler regions. Other cultivars are used to fill in the periods between the maturation of the different fruit sets.

Star Ruby

Star ruby is by far the most common grapefruit cultivar, making up almost 85% of grapefruit hectares. The fruit is medium to large, and has a deep golden yellow to red colour. The flesh of the Star ruby is deep red, and it has a sweet flavour. The fruit rarely has more than one or two seeds, and it has a high juice content. It is the ideal fruit for fresh consumption.


Marsh is a large, whitish-yellow fruit and is also virtually seedless. Marsh has a characteristic sharp, tangy flavour. It is suitable for fresh consumption or for processing into juice and is the favourite fruit for making marmalade.


Rosé fruit is slightly smaller than Marsh, and is also virtually seedless. The rind of the fruit is light yellow with a distinctive red blush, and its flesh is pale pink in colour. The flavour is similar to that of the star ruby, but not quite as intense.


The last variety that should be mentioned is the shaddock, also called the pomelo or sometimes pummelo. This variety is not strictly a grapefruit, but the fruit is marketed with other grapefruit. The fruit has a thick rind, and thick, spongy pith. The flesh is light pink, with tough membranes between the sections. This makes it into a fruit that is not easy to eat, but for those that know it, it is one of the best tasting citrus fruit that you can wish to find. It matures towards the beginning of the season, in April to May.

Source: CRI Cultivar Fact Sheets

Citrus Rootstocks

The most commonly used rootstocks in citrus production in southern Africa are Roughlemon, Volckameriana, Swingle Citrumelo, Carrizo Citrange, Troyer Citrange, X639 (or Cleopatra XP Trifoliate), C35, MXT, and Yuma citrange.

Before we go about selecting the right rootstock, it is important to be clear on the function of roots. Roots anchor the plant in the ground, absorb and transport water and nutrients into the plant, synthesise growth regulators, and store food reserves.

The right sort of rootstock is one that meets the following requirements: it is compatible with the fruit-bearing scion cultivar; it is adaptable to the soil and climatic conditions; it makes the fruit-bearing scion more productive and vigorous, is resistant to pests and diseases; and it influences the fruit maturity, quality, colour, size and yield. This may seem like a tall order, but the right rootstock can achieve all of this.

Rootstock Selection
In summary, we can say that rootstock selection serves two purposes, namely:

  • Minimising the effect of limitations that there might be at the site, such as the soil type, the quality of the irrigation water and disease presence.
  • Secondly the rootstock can enhance the yield, fruit size and fruit quality


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Clanwilliam 8135, South Africa