Citrus History, Taxonomy, Breeding, and Fruit Quality
- Paolo InglesePaolo IngleseUniversity of Palermo, Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Science
- and Giuseppe SortinoGiuseppe SortinoUniversity of Palermo, Department of Agriculture, Food and Forestry Science
In May, every year since 1857, in the great park of Sans-Souci in Potsdam just outside Berlin—a park begun in 1745 by Emperor Frederick II of Hohenzollern and expanded a century later by Frederick William IV—the doors of the great Orangerie open in and a Renaissance-style garden called Sizilianischer Garten is set up. On horse-drawn carriages, large olive and citrus trees are brought outdoors, and are then raised in masters.
For the young European who, in the second half of the 18th century and in the first decades of the following, traveled to Italy to see and study Renaissance culture and the remains of Greek civilization, the citrus species and fruits and groves of southern Italy became the ultimate symbol of beauty and a sort of status symbol of wealth, particularly that of landowners. Nothing is more expressive of the fascination of their fruit than Abu-l-Hasan Ali’s 12th-century writings: “Come on, enjoy your harvested orange: happiness is present when it is present. / Welcome the cheeks of the branches, and welcome the stars of the trees! / It seems that the sky has lavished gold and that the earth has formed some shiny spheres.”
Indeed, Citrus spp. are among the most important crops and consumed fruit worldwide. Their co-evolution due to a millennial agricultural utilization resulted in a complexity of species and cultivated varieties derived by natural or induced mutations, crossing and breeding the “original” species (Citrus medica, Citrus maxima, Citrus reticulate, Fortunella japonica) and their main progenies (C. aurantium, C. sinensis, Citrus limon, Citrus paradisi, Citrus clementina, etc.). Citrus spread from the original tropical and subtropical regions of southeast Asia toward the Mediterranean countries of Europe and North Africa and, after 1492, in the Americas, not to mention South Africa and Australia, where they still have a very important role. Citrus species, wherever they have been cultivated, quickly became the protagonists of the letters and the arts, as well as the markets and gastronomy, and can even be found in religious ceremonies, such as for Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot). Studies on Citrus botany, cultivation, and utilization have been pursued since the early stages of the fruit’s domestication and grew following their introduction in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Australia. Citrus research involves many different aspects: such as the study of citrus origin and botanical classification; citrus growing, propagation, and orchard management; citrus fruit quality, utilization and industry; citrus gardening and ornamentals; citrus in arts and manufacturing.