Fruit Fact: Mandarin, a type of Citrus
Introduction: Mandarins are smaller sized sweet and juicy orange colored citrus that are also generally easy to peel, revealing 10-12 sections. Although peeling ease can vary significantly from cultivar to cultivar.
Mandarins have a spotted botanical history, and used to be broken up into the following distinct categories: the common mandarin (citrus nobilis), the clementines (Citrus clementina), the tangerine (Citrus tangerina), the satsumas (Citrus unshiu), Mediterranean, or Willowleaf mandarins(Citrus deliciosa) and many hybrids that look, feel and taste like mandarins. Today, all of these are classified today as citrus reticulata, and for the sakes of this Fruit Fact, we treat all of these as different varieties of mandarins.
Common Names: Mandarin, clementine, tangerine
All mandarins are thought to have originated in China, but the various types took different paths through the world and changed considerably along the way. The common mandarin (citrus nobilis) and the so called tangerines (Citrus tangerina) are the hardest to lump into a common history as there are cultivars that have evolved all over the world and have their own histories. For example, the ponkan is a tropical cultivar, while the Changsha his a very hardy, cold tolerant cultivar that can take down to -5F (15C).
The clementines (Citrus clementina) originated in Algeria in the garden of the orphanage of the Pères du Saint-Esprit at Misserghin, a small village near Oran in 1902. The first clementine (Algerian) was selected by Father Clement Rodier from open pollinated seedlings. Subsequent work in 2002 by the French National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA) in Corsica determined through DNA analysis that clementines turn out to be a hybrid of the Mediterranean mandarin and a sweet orange.Meanwhile there are a whole set of clementine cultivars whose genetic analysis may yield very different results. There is a claim that clementines are nothing new by citing the Canton mandarin as actually being a clementine.
The satsumas (Citrus unshiu) all find their origin in Japan and are classified into early, or 'wase' types, or late, 'Unshu' types. The Mediterranean mandarins (Citrus deliciosa) have been cultivated around the Mediterranean for many years, but probably also originated in China.
Mandarin cultivation was already well established in China and Japan on a large scale since the 16th century, but didn't arrive in Europe and America until the early 19th century. In 1805, two varieties of the Mandarin oranges were brought into England from Canton. From England, they were introduced into the Mediterranean region. By 1850, the fruit was well-established in Italy.
In the mid 1800's, the Italian Consul in New Orleans imported a mandarin from China and planted the first Mandarin on US soil. From there, the mandarin traveled to Florida and subsequently California. The Japanese 'Owari' Satsuma came to the Gulf states in 1878, with a million trees growing by 1911. Around 1892, two 'Ponkan' fruits were sent from China to Florida, and seedlings of these ended up in commercial propagation. In California, the King Mandarin came from Saigon in 1882 and led to commercial propagation.
With so many different varieties of mandarins in so many parts of the world, it's safe to claim that the mandarin is highly adaptable to highly varying types of climates. As a whole, mandarins seem to thrive in both humid, tropical climates and dry Mediterranean climates. Many Satsumas are known to be very tolerant of cool Summer conditions and will thrive even along the Northern California coastline. Mandarins also have displayed considerable hardiness, with Changsha taking -5F. Hardy cultivars have also been developed for the Gulf States where freezes can be devastating.
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Storage And Consumption:
Mandarins varieties are classified under the Mandarin Varieties node. (If this link is red, it means the category has not been added yet.) Click on the variety category link to navigate to the varieties.
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