Photo Credit:  Randy Lemmon
Photo Credit: Randy Lemmon

I thought it was worth a re-introduction and details on a “sweet lemon” we’ve talked about a few times on the radio show.  And I occasionally get an email after a broadcast with someone asking me, “What was that crazy sounding citrus you just mentioned?” It’s the Ujukitsu!!!

I love this fruit tree for several reasons.  One is its ability to handle cold temperatures better than other “sweet” lemons. Frankly, it can handle drops into the mid-20s and survive. I also love cooking with ujukitsu. And I love saying the name — oo-joo-KIT-soo. 

Did I say sweet lemon? Yes. There are several lemon trees considered “sweet,” and somel are just generically called “sweet lemon.” The ujukitsu was originally named Lemonade Fruit.  We have had success locally with the Meyer lemon.  It’s not as sweet as Ujukitsu and it has a hint of orange.

And what exactly is “sweet” when it comes to lemons? It’s a generic term used to describe citrus hybrids with low-acid pulp and juice. Sweet lemon plants are not really lemons.  They’re lemon hybrids – crosses with other types of citrus. In the case of Ujukitsu, it is thought to be a strain of tangelo, which is, in turn, a cross between a grapefruit and a tangerine.

Rio Farms, a USDA research center in the Rio Grande Valley, originally brought Ujukitsu to the United States from Japan. The region had a significant freeze in 1983, killing most of the citrus, but one Ujukitsu survived. John Panzarella, a citrus expert from Angleton who has been a GardenLine guest in the past, collected some budwood from it to propagate.

Ujukitsu sweet lemon trees have a “weeping” habit with long, arching branches. Fruit appears at the ends of the branches and is pear-shaped. When ripe, the fruit is bright yellow and thick, making it difficult to peel. Inside, the pulp is mildly sweet and juicy. Ujukitus grow more slowly than other citrus, but its fruit appears earlier than other “sweet lemon” trees, such as Sanoboken. They bloom profusely with aromatic blossoms in the spring followed by fruit formation. The largest fruit is about the size of a softball and ripens through the fall into winter. 

This is a “collectors citrus”.  They will be found for sale at many of the independent nurseries and garden centers we endorse on the radio show.  I doubt you’ll find them at big box stores and/or mass merchandisers.