Poncirus Flying Dragon with fruits


Frightening, Beautiful, Edible

Right now, my hardy orange tree might look at its finest, standing at the head of my driveway against a pure white, snowy backdrop. An orange tree!? Outdoors with a snowy backdrop?! Okay, in all honesty, it’s a bush, not a tree. But it is an orange plant, and it does survive into Zone 5 outdoors. (Temperatures plummeted to 2° F a week ago, and coldest temperatures typically arrive around the end of this month.)

Botanically, the plant was Poncirus trifoliata. I write “was” because a few years ago, this citrus relative was welcomed closer into the citrus fold, with a new official name, Citrus trifoliata. Not all botanists recognize this closer kinship, and insist on keeping the plant in the Poncirus genus.

The kinship of hardy orange with other citrus is obvious from its glossy, forest green leaves, the sweet (but very slight) aroma of its flowers, and its fruits, which are pale orange. Poncirus Flying Dragon with fruitsThe fruits are edible but I wouldn’t bite into one; the flavor is orangish, but also sour and bitter. Perhaps I’d squeeze the pulp to add a hint of citrus flavor to some other cooked fruit or a baked good. Perhaps not.

What I like best about this plant are its stems, which are most evident now, when bared in winter. Read more

New York Grown Oranges!

Yes, A True Citrus

Oranges? In New York, planted outdoors in the ground? Yes, I have them ripening on the branches now. No matter if they ripen thoroughly or not because, although they are true oranges, delicious flavor  is not one of their assets. It’s still a plant well worth growing.

The plant is the aptly named “hardy orange,” actually a true citrus species, Citrus trifoliata. (Previously, hardy orange was a citrus relative; botanists recently moved it to the Citrus genus from the closely related Poncirus genus.)
Hardy oranges ripening

Mostly I planted hardy orange for its stems, whose show is at the same time intimidating, interesting, and decorative. Stems of the variety that I grow, Flying Dragon, twist and contort every which way, and then add to the show with large, recurving thorns. Stems and thorns are forest green, even as they age, and remain so all through winter to make the plant especially decorative when leafless.Bare stems of hardy orange

I would have planted Flying Dragon hardy orange just for its stems. But adding to the show, in spring are white flowers — citrus flowers — that are fragrant just like those of oranges and lemons. On my plant, at least, they’re smaller with commensurately less fragrance.

This year, this month, Flying Dragon has presented yet another attractive face. Its leaves are preparing to drop by turning a pinkish crimson. This color, developing for now on leaves towards the ends of the topmost branches contrasts nicely with the still forest green leaves and the few fruits starting to yellow.Fall color of hardy orange

The problem with the fruits, gustatorily, is that they’re not very juicy, and they are very tart, somewhat bitter, and seedy. Still, they can be used to add a bit of home-grown citrus flavor to an -ade (Flying Dragonade?), fish, etc.

I Plant A Seed

New hardy orange plants are easy to raise from seed. The most important ingredient, as with other citrus, is not letting the seeds dry out once extracted from the fruit.

With most plants, you don’t get an exact replica of the mother plant in seedlings. Plant a McIntosh apple seed and the resulting tree will not bear McIntosh apples. (Just as you are not a genetic replica of your mother.) It depends on what pollinated the mother tree and how the chromosomes sorted out. Even though peaches are self-pollinating, the offspring of a Redhaven peach won’t bear Redhaven peaches.

Plant a seed of Flying Dragon hardy orange (or some other citrus varieties, in general), and you could get more Flying Dragons, exact replicas of the mother plant. That’s because citrus are among the few plants that exhibit apomixis, that is, seeds within the fruits that develop from only mother plant tissue.

Other plants that also bear apomictic seeds are some species of onion and dandelion. Some coneflowers, apples, and raspberries also bear apomictic seeds, but only if the flowers are pollinated — even though the pollen does not insinuate itself into the apomictic seed’s genetics.

Not all the seeds within a Flying Dragon fruit are apomictic. Hence, not all will grow to become Flying Dragons.

Hardy orange seedlings

The seedling on right is probably apomictic

Further complicating matters, some seeds can develop into more than one seedling! And some of those seedlings growing from that one seed might be apomictic while others will be run-of-the-mill.

None of these complications interferes with my propagating Flying Dragons from seed. The contorted stems and recurved thorns are so distinctive that it’s easy to tell the Flying Dragons from the others. Apomictic seedlings also are generally more vigorous than sexually-produced seedlings.

Not Everyone’s A Fan

Southerners are not nearly as enamored with hardy orange as I am . The hardiness, the thorns, and the seeds’ enthusiasm to sprout make the plants a threat down there, where the shrubs grow from 8 to 15 feet tall.

Hardy oranges were introduced into the south about 150 years ago, possibly to contain livestock. There, the plants have spread to woodlands, forest edges, and fencerows to shade out native plants. The lack of affection for the plant might be summed up in a quote from a Texas publication stating that hardy orange “does respond well to bulldozing.”

While bemoaning not being able to grow southern magnolia, gardenia, camellia, and crape myrtle this far north, I am thankful for being able to grow hardy orange without any danger.

Fruit in Winter!


Snow Mulching

Only four inches of snow fell a a couple of weeks ago but I decided anyway to go outside and mulch. And shovel snow. And shovel snow and mulch.

What I was trying to do, besides clear snow from the driveway, the paths, and the doorway to the greenhouse, was to create a microclimate. A microclimate is a small area where the climate is slightly different from the general climate.

One group of plants in need of this special treatment are my maypops, Passiflora incarnata. Yes, Passiflora genus is that of passionflower, and maypop is a hardy species of passionflower, native to eastern U.S.. It bears the same breathtaking flowers, whose intricate arrangement of flower parts was used by Christian missionaries to teach native Americans about the “passion” of Christ, as the tropical species. White maypop flowerAnd, like the tropical species, flowers are followed by egg-shaped fruits filled with air and seeds around which clings a delectable gelatinous coating. You know the flavor if you’ve ever tasted Hawaiian punch.

Maypop parts ways with tropical passionflowers, which are woody vines, in being an herbaceous vine. The roots live year ‘round but the above ground portions of the plant die back each winter.

Besides creating a microclimate for the maypops, I also chose to plant them in an existing microclimate to their liking. That is on the south side of my woodshed, where the sun bears down to provide extra warmth in summer. (Another goal was to let the vines each summer cover a trellis that would give the woodshed some shade to prevent the firewood from drying out to much.) These plants of southeastern U.S. like their summers hot.

Soil moderates temperatures so never get as cold in winter as the air — or, in summer, as hot as the air. Five feet down, soils remain at a balmy 50°F year ‘round. Shallower depths are commensurately colder in winter and warmer in summer than deeper down.

Maypop is borderline hardy this far north. Insulating the ground around the plants will keep temperatures around the roots from dropping too low. Hence the snowy mulch.

As maypop grows through the summer, new flowers and then fruits appear. The longer the growing season, the more fruits the plants bear. Although I want to keep the ground from getting too cold in the depths of winter, I’d like it to warm up quickly in spring to get the plants going.

Wood chips, straw, snow, or any other mulch is going to put the brakes on soil warming, so, ideally, the mulch should be removed after the coldest part of winter is past. Except if that mulch is snow, which will melt.

Ugly but Delicious

Wandering through the snow to the other side of the farmden, I come upon another fruit, this one ready to pick and eat right now! Medlar. (Medlar and maypop each warranted a whole chapter in my book Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden.)

Medlar fruits resemble small, russeted apples (a relative), tinged dull yellow or red, with their calyx ends (across from the stems) flared open. Medlar, fruit in basketIt’s peak of popularity was in the Middle Ages. And though popular, it was made fun of for it’s appearance; Chaucer called it the “open-arse” fruit.

That old-fashioned look extends to the tree itself, which even this time of year is attractive with the elbowed contortions of its branches. In spring, the blossoms, which resemble wild roses, are borne singly at the ends of branches and, opening late so that each is cradled in already opened whorl of leaves.

But back to the fruit; its got another quirk, besides its appearance. It’s inedible when first harvested. But after the fruit has sat for a couple of weeks or more indoors, a process called bletting, the once-hard, white flesh turns to brown mush.

Medlar, after bletting

Medlar, after bletting

Yechhhh! The flavor, though, has a refreshing briskness with winy overtones, like old-fashioned applesauce laced with cinnamon.

Fruits left on the tree also blet, and my trees are loaded with fruits.

Uh oh. Although medlar is generally pest-free, I see that many of the fruits have what looks like some sort of pest damage. Instead of the smooth, brown mush, flesh of damaged fruits is drier, almost powdery. What is it?

(Almost?) Hardy Orange

More snow more recently fell, and with it came bitter cold, which made me fear for the survival of my hardy orange, Citrus trifoliata. This orange is allegedly hardy to zone 5, but still . . .

The plant is only about four feet tall and there was plenty of snow so I just started piling snow on top of it. The ends of some branches remained exposed, which is okay because they can tell me whether the plant is really hardy.

Hardy orange bears flowers and fruits very similar to sweet oranges except that hardy orange fruits are bitter and very seedy. They could be used — in moderation — for flavoring, though. Citrus, Flying DragonHardy orange fruitMostly I grow it for the novelty of an outdoor orange tree, for the sweetly fragrant blossoms, and for the decorative, green, swirling, recurved spiny stems.

Come spring, I;’ll know if just how hardy the hardy orange really is. Temperature the night after covering it dropped to minus 18° Fahrenheit.


Spring Dreams

Looking out a window today, all I see is white, a thick blanket of snow covering the ground and howling winds periodically puff clouds of it swirling into the air. Still, I can feel the pull of spring. Perhaps it’s the bright sunlight. Couple that with the colorful gardening magazines and catalog strewn on the kitchen table, and how can I resist vicarious planting — by ordering plants instead.

David Austin roses, whose blooms have the look and fragrances of yesteryear (pastel colors and blowsy form), and the repeat blooming of pest-resistance of presentyear roses, are always a draw. Every year, new varieties are offered, some, I’m gad to see, that are cold-hardy to zone 4.

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

Rose, L. D. Braithwaite

And m–m-m-m, the thought of picking fresh, ripe sweet cherries is also enticing. No, no! I ordered and planted what was allegedly a self-fertile Compact Stella cherry tree seven years ago. It wasn’t compact and it has yet to bear a cherry. I tell others that sweet cherries are a poor bet around here because of winter cold, spring frosts, and various inset and disease pests. And, after that, even if fruits do develop, birds will likely eat them. I should have been listening when I dispensed that advice.

The cherry tree has one more season to prove it’s worth. If it doesn’t, I have a replacement plant (hardy orange, Citrus trifoliata) anxiously waiting in the wings.Hardy orange

I’ve always wanted to plant a magnolia, of which there are many newer and older varieties, but where could I plant it? Now that I think of it, I did plant a magnolia last spring. It died. And a few years back, I planted a sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) purchased on an impulse at a nursery a few years ago. I remember planting it, but not what happened to it, except that it’s no longer around.

The magnolia that I really want to plant is southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora. This large evergreen gracing many homes from Virginia southward with its large, glossy, dark green leaves and it’s large, lily-white, fragrant blossoms seems to politely call for a chair in its shade, a frosty mint julep on the armrest.

Problem is that southern magnolias are not hardy here — yet. I know of a gorgeous tree about an hour south of here and two varieties — Edith Pogue and Bracken’s Brown Beauty — are hardy below zero degrees F. It hardly gets below zero here these past few winters and, with global warming . . . ?

Yes, it is hard to keep my wits about me as spring approaches, and will be increasingly so as spring edges in. “I will not buy another sweet cherry tree, I will not buy another apricot tree (even more problematic), I will not buy another magnolia (yet), . . .”

Dorris, I’d Like To Meet You

Uh oh, another new variety of filbert from the breeding program at Oregon State University. This variety, Dorris, is, like some of its recent predecessors, immune to the eastern filbert blight that has for so long made filbert growing east of the Rockies unfeasible. They’re breeding blight-resistant filbert in Oregon because the blight fungus has made its way west.

Filbert nut harvest last fall

Filbert nut harvest last fall

But eastern filbert blight is a capricious fungus, sometimes changing in a way that let’s it attack even “resistant” filberts. So I’m constantly cutting down diseased filberts and replanting “resistant” ones. One of the newest varieties, which will get a spot in the line of filberts that draws my eyes and footsteps along the edge of  meadow, is Dorris.

Good luck Dorris.

Making Trees

Some trees and shrubs coming to my garden this year are going to be home-made, that is, created by me from seeds, cuttings, or grafts. To that end, I recently collected hackberry seeds as well as scions (for grafting) of persimmon, pear, and cornelian cherry, and packed them all away in an insulated box in my garage. I will deal with them in a few weeks.

Gathering scionwood

Gathering scionwood

Collecting scionwood for grafting segue nicely with pruning. From the prunings strews about on the ground, I cut and save one-year-old stems into foot-long sections.

A Seedy Time of Year

Around here, eating fruit isn’t always just about eating fruit. Following my last bite of this Macoun apple I’m eating, I flick out the seeds with a paring knife into a cup. Same goes for pears and their seeds. Early in summer, I spit out Nanking cherry seeds into a waiting vessel. All these seeds are for planting,
Seeds of these cold hardy plants won’t sprout as soon as they hit moist, warm dirt. If they did, the young seedlings would be snuffed out by winter cold. It is after a period of exposure to cool, moist conditions that they — thinking winter over — sprout. Seeds in dropping fruits, of course, enjoy this experience naturally and poke up through the ground first thing next spring,
Wanting to keep a close eye on my seedlings, I plant them in pots and seed flats rather than let them do what they would do naturally. After I had collected the seeds, I kept them dry, and now am ready to plant

them. This week I am sowing the seeds in potting soil in flats and in pots. Once given a good watering, the seed flats and pots get covered with a pane of glass to hold in moisture. Tucked against the north wall of my house, the seeds will sprout in spring,

Sometimes I cozy such seeds into plastic bags of moist potting soil in the refrigerator. The problem is that the seeds then  sprout in the bags in midwinter. Cool, not cold, temperatures are what fool the seeds into behaving as if winter’s over. About 1,000 hours, depending on the species and variety of plant, usually does the trick. In the refrigerator, temperatures are always cool; outdoors, only sometimes, and there, it’s not until late winter that the required 1,000 hours of cool temperatures have been fulfilled. It’s hard to provide ample light for an enthusiastic seedling growing in midwinter,
Unless a plant self-pollinates and has been grown in isolation, with desirable plants selected each generation for many generations, seedlings are unlike their parents. So none of the fruits on the seedlings that grow from the seeds taken from Macoun, Golden Delicious, Liberty, Bosc, Maxine, and Clapp’s Favorite apples and pears will match the parents; they will most likely be inferior,
No problem; these seedlings are for rootstocks on which to graft stems of good-tasting varieties of apples and pears. Rootstocks are ready to graft after growing for one season,
Nanking cherries are an exception; no varieties are available. The seedlings, which show some variation, are all good-tasting, so no need anyway to graft,
Another batch of seeds I’m sowing is of more tropical-like plants: passionfruit and hardy orange. I write

“tropical-like” because the passionfruit I’m planting is maypop (Passiflora incarnata) and the hardy orange is Poncirus trifoliata. Both should survive winter cold here. Both are also northern members of tropical or subtropical families, and their seed behavior reflects their tropical “roots.”

Hardy orange seeds, like citrus seeds, lose their viability if allowed to dry out. Things are not so clearcut with the best way to grow maypop from seed. I sowed the seeds as soon as I removed the delectable, gel coating each seed (by eating it),
Hardy orange is a nice ornamental plant; my hardy orange is the variety Flying Dragon, which is a spectacular ornamental plant,
In contrast to apple and pear seedlings, hardy orange seedlings often resemble their moms. Seeds of hardy orange, like those of citrus, look like any old seeds that result from the union of male pollen with

female eggs. In fact, many are apomyctic, that is, derived solely from mother plant tissue. No jumbling around of chromosomes to produce variable seedlings here. Apomyctic seedlings are clones, Flying Dragon in the case of my hardy orange seedlings,

A citrus or hardy orange fruit yields some apomyctic and some sexual seedlings, about 50% of each in the case of hardy orange,
As I admired Flying Dragon over the past few months, one way or another I had to make more plants. Cuttings taken a few months ago weren’t rooting and although the plant flowered, no fruits were evident. Then, last week, as leaves dropped from my plant — hardy orange parts ways with real oranges in being deciduous — I caught sight of a single orange orb perched on a stem. One fruit is plenty because they are very seedy. That single fruit, smaller than a golf ball, yielded 20 seeds,
I didn’t eat any of that Flying Dragon fruit. A bit of juice from hardy orange adds a citrus-y tang to a recipe but the fruit itself is too robust and bitter for eating straight up,