CHINESE Dwarf Meyer Lemon Introduced

In March of 1908, Frank N. Meyer, agricultural explorer of the Department of Agriculture, while traveling in the vicinity of Peking, China, observed a lemon that was used as a house plant and was regarded very highly by the Chinese. It was grown as an ornamental plant, but the fruit was also considered of excellent quality. Plants of this variety were obtained by Mr. Meyer and carried with him along with other plants on his return to the United States in June, 1908. This was given an “accession number,” S. P. 1. 23028, and determined as Citrus limonia Osbeck.  It has since been questioned as to whether or not it may be of hybrid origin, but this is yet to be determined. The varietal name Meyer has been suggested for use in connection with this introduction. "Mr. Meyer’s note regarding this lemon was as follows:

   (No. 690, March 31, 1908) From Fengtai, near Peking, Chihli, China. Ornamental lemon. This lemon is grown as a pot plant when dwarfed, and is very much appreciated by the Chinese higher classes as a decorative house plant in winter. At that season a small plant often has a dozen large lemons hanging on its branches and sometimes sells for $10. Protect from frost. Can be slipped in sandy soil in flat pots. Chinese name "Hsien Yuang.”

Mr. Meyer landed at San Francisco and took his plants to the department’s plant introduction garden at Chico, Calif., in the Sacramento Valley. Here they were grown and propagated for testing in the various citrus areas of this country and for testing as a pot plant farther north. It has been observed at Chico that the plants can be propagated readily from cutting as Mr. Meyer indicated and that they are much more winter hardy than ordinary commercial lemons. It was not killed by a temperature of 13° F. at the Chico plant introduction garden, although the top was killed back severely. A temperature of 24° F. has done no other damage than to discolor some of the leaves.

This lemon is a dwarf-growing plant attaining under favorable circumstances a height of 8 to 10 feet. In general it is a low-growing, bushy plant requiring a space not over 8 feet square. The fruit is slightly larger than that of the Eureka, Lisbon, or other common commercial varieties. It has a very smooth, thin skin, and but little fiber or rag. It is very juicy and mildly acid for a lemon. (Figs. 48 and 49.)

FIG. 48.—Fruits of the Meyer lemon (S. P. I. No. 23028) grown at Oroville, Calif., in 1925

FIG. 49.—Fruiting branch of the Meyer lemon (S. P. I. No. 23028) photographed at the plant introduction garden, Brooksville, Fla.

Experience of American Growers

One experimenter in California in December, 1925, reported as follows:

   The trees, while slow growing, appear to be hardier than either the Lisbon or Eureka. Occupying the same situation in my orchard as these varieties, they (the Eureka and Lisbon) lost a few leaves during the extreme cold of a year ago, but the trees of Meyer lemon did not suffer any injury to either leaves or tender terminal growth. They fruited the second year from planting and have proved very heavy bearers. The fruit has fewer seeds than either the Lisbon or Eureka, has a smooth, glovelike skin; the center of the fruit entirely lacking in fibrous growth, carries considerably more juice than any lemon grown by me (I have seven varieties) and we prefer it to any for household use.

An experimenter in Florida reported in the spring of 1926 as follows:

During December of 1925 we had temperatures of 24°, 22°, and 16° F. The plant was partly defoliated at 16° F., but suffered not at all from the other temperatures. All growth appears to be unhurt and we believe it will prove slightly less hardy than the Satsuma.

The department has but little exact information regarding yield fruit, but general observation and reports indicate it as producing An experimenter in California reported in December, 1925, as follows:

   I planted my tree out-of-doors in the lawn five years ago. The second year planting it produced 7 fruits, the third year 111 fruits, the fourth year 138 fruits, and this year 25.  In 1924 it overproduced and then the frost killed most of the leaves, resulting in a lighter crop this year (1925).

Heavy Bearing Tree in Texas

At Brownsville, Tex., a tree 6 feet high bore 132 lemons in 1920 and 240 in 1921; these averaged 8 ounces in weight. At Irvington, Ala., a tree planted in 1918 was reported to have borne several hundred fruits in 1921 and about 1,000 fruits in 1923. However, this same tree died during the cold winter of 1923-24.

The best stock for this lemon has not been determined. Some have reported good results when worked on sour-orange stock, and others unfavorable. It has also been worked on Poncirus trifoliata, grapefruit, and mandarin, with opinions varying regarding the relative value of these as stocks. However, since it roots readily from cuttings it perhaps may be safest, until otherwise demonstrated, to grow it on its own roots.

This seems to be a fruit of special value for home use in areas where it can be grown in the open, and it also may have value as a commercial fruit in locations too cool for other varieties to succeed.