The Charm of Citrus


There is nothing quite so
evocative of sunny climates as the burst of enlivening flavours delivered by
citrus fruits.  

Whether it’s a squirt of lemon
over fresh grilled fish, lime juice in a margarita, a spoonful of pink
grapefruit in the morning or a segment of succulent orange after a dive, citrus
fruits bring to mind a feeling of health, wellbeing and energy. 

It is no wonder these juicy,
sometimes sharp, sometimes sweet fruits have been enjoyed for centuries. High
in vitamin C, citrus fruits have been used to treat and prevent colds, improve
digestion, and for other medicinal purposes. Generations of sailors have relied
on citrus fruit to prevent the onset of scurvy, caused by a deficiency of
vitamin C. 

As in many Caribbean islands,
citrus fruits are cultivated by Cayman’s farmers, although local crops were
dealt a severe blow by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, a disaster from which growers
are still recovering. 

At Mr Willie’s Farm in North Side,
oranges, limes, lemons and grapefruits used to be grown, but now there is only
a crop of Key limes. Zelma-Lee Ebanks, who runs the farm with her husband
Willie, says they aim to replant the citrus trees. 

“The Key lime trees are coming
back. So, far we haven’t replaced the orange or grapefruit we lost in Ivan,”
says Zelma-Lee. “We used to have grapefruit and oranges and lemons and

Hurricanes are not the only threat
to citrus fruit. 

Joel Walton, who runs Plantation
House Organic Gardens in Bodden Town, believes one of the challenges in growing
citrus in Cayman is that the islands’ soil is alkaline, whereas slightly acidic
soils are preferable for these fruits.  

“Therefore, our citrus suffers
terribly from ‘minor element (micro nutrient) deficiency’ due to this PH
imbalance, which restricts the plants’ ability to extract much needed ‘micros’
from the soil naturally,” Joel explains. “This deficiency needs to be corrected
by the addition of nutrients, such as boron, manganese, iron, magnesium,
through regular foliar feeds or soil drenches, unless you are able to correct
your soil’s PH through the addition of peat, compost, sulphur, or some
combination thereof, which will allow the plant to uptake these ‘micros’ from
the surrounding soil on its own. However, these modified soils will revert to
alkaline in time due to the high levels of lime found in our native soils.”  

Joel adds that even if you are
successful in combating the alkalinity of the soil, citrus trees still face
numerous problems. 

“These range from leaf miners,
thrips, scale insects, mites, and more recently, citrus canker since most
citrus plants in Cayman were imported, until recently, from Florida where the
disease has been devastating in recent times,” he says. “To help protect the
small amount of citrus that is left in these islands, the Department of
Agriculture continues to have a citrus plant import ban for Florida and most
other countries. Cayman citrus plant imports now come from Jamaica and to a
lesser extent, from California, but under strict conditions.” 

Plantation House, Joel grows oranges, of the Valencia, navel, pineapple and
Seville variety; tangerines; ortaniques (a hybrid of orange and tangerine);
ugli (a hybrid of grapefruit, orange and tangerine); Meyers, pink, rough and improved
Meyers lemons; Key, West Indian and Tahitian/Persian limes; and oro blanco

says he only grows limited quantities of most of these fruits because “Cayman
conditions are not ideal for citrus in general and growing them is a long slog
with limited success”, but since lemons and limes tend to fare better than
others, he cultivates these in commercial quantities and supplies restaurants
on island, Market at The Grounds and individual buyers directly from his

The best time of year to plant
citrus fruits in Cayman is between October and February, when the temperatures
are cooler and the plants get the benefit of the end of the rainy season, Joel

“This will help the plants to a
good start and allow the trees to strengthen for the oncoming summer and
hurricane season as citrus is a shallow-rooted species and tends to blow over
easily even during heavy rains,” says Joel. “In general, citrus prefers a
combination of slightly acidic soils and sub-tropical (and semi) climatic
conditions. For example, temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit will greatly
assist in the change of skin colour on oranges and tangerines, although lemons/limes
will change their skin colour in Cayman conditions.” 

The history of citrus
fruits dates back many centuries. Most citrus fruits are believed to have
originated in India and South East Asia and were brought to the Middle East and
Africa by Arabic traders, before they were exported to Europe. The introduction
of citrus fruits, including oranges, lemons and limes, to the Americas is
credited to Christopher Columbus, who is believed to have brought seeds or
saplings of the plants with him to Hispaniola – now Haiti and the Dominican
Republic – on his second voyage to the New World in 1493.   


The best time of year to plant citrus fruits in Cayman is
between October and February, when the temperatures are cooler and the plants
get the benefit of the end of the rainy season, Joel advises.



At first, lemons
were cultivated as ornamental fruit and were not generally eaten until the 10th
century. After Arabic traders introduced the lemon to Spain around the 11th
century, the fruit became widely cultivated in the Mediterranean. Crusaders
returning from Palestine are believed to have brought lemons to the rest of
Europe. After Columbus introduced lemon seeds to the New World, the fruit
spread to the United States, where they have been growing since the mid 1700s. 

The average yield
per lemon tree is approximately 1500 lemons a year. Lemons are a rich source of
vitamins A, B and C and also contain iron and calcium.  


References to
limes, the smallest of the citrus family, have appeared in ancient Arabic and
Indian writings.  

There are three
basic types of lime – Tahitian, Mexican, and Key limes. Tahitian limes are
large, have a pale, finely-grained pulp and are very acidic; Mexican limes are
smaller, with bright green skins and an aromatic flavour; Key limes are a pale
yellowish-green fruit, are very juicy and have a strong, sharp flavour.  

Limes are widely
grown in the West Indies, where the British Navy gathered supplies to
supplement their sailors’ rations to help prevent scurvy, which led to the
nickname “Limeys”. Limes are high in vitamin C.  


Grapefruits are descendents of the orange and the pomelo, which is
native to Malaysia and Indonesia. The original hybrid grapefruit was the size
of an orange and was originally known as the “Forbidden Fruit” or “smaller
shaddock”, possibly after a Captain Shaddock, who has been credited with
bringing the seeds of the fruit to the West Indies. The grapefruit, so named
because it grows in grape-like clusters, arrived in the United States in 1823,
though the fruit did not become popular there until much later in that century. 

Initially, only
yellow grapefruits were grown, and later pink and red grapefruit were
discovered as mutations and developed by growers. In Jamaica, the grapefruit
was crossbred with the tangerine and the orange to produce the sweeter ugli.
Grapefruit is rich in vitamin C and potassium, while pink grapefruit is rich in
vitamin A, and acts as a natural antioxidant.  


Orange trees require lots of sunlight to grow and thrive in warmer
areas. They are widely grown throughout the Caribbean, and in California and
Florida in the United States.  

The orange, now known for its succulent sweetness, was originally a sour
fruit growing wild in China and is believed to have been cultivated by the
Chinese as early as 2500 BC. Other horticultural historians say it originated
in India and Myanmar. It is believed the Romans brought back oranges from India
in the 1st century AD. The fruit also found its way to northern Africa and it
is likely the Moors brought oranges with them to southern Spain in the 8th or
9th century. By the 1200s, orange groves extended from Seville to Granada, as
well as regions of Portugal. Seedlings of the orange reached Panama with the
Spanish in 1516 and Mexico shortly afterwards. At about the same time, the
Portuguese were planting sweet oranges in their South American colony of

There are two types of orange trees: the
bitter orange tree and the sweet orange tree. The fruit of the sweet orange
tree contains vitamins A, B and C, as well as potassium. 



Norma Connolly