The Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) is a citrus fruit of the family of the Rutaceae. It comes from Asia (Malaysia and India) and it is considered a natural hybrid of the Citrus medica (citron) with another species.
Differently from the other citrus trees, which are subtropical plants, the lime prefers the tropical climate: this explains why it is almost unknown in the Mediterranean countries, except in Egypt. In the past the lime was exported from India to England to supply the ship crews with vitamin C, to cure and prevent the scurvy. Then the Portuguese, in the XVI century, took the Citrus aurantifolia to Mexico and Florida, where it is still cultivated.
Today lime is cultivated principally in Latin America and in the Caribbean, in Mexico and in Southeast Asia.
It is a small evergreen with irregular shape and thorny little branches, it isn’t higher than 3-5 metres.
It is light green, with oval, finely crenate leaves with a round base and a pointed apex. The petioles are winged and flat.
The inflorescences are in bunches and have between two and seven fragrant white little flowers which grow in different periods of the year.
The fruit are smaller than lemons, slightly oval, green or green-yellowish, except some varieties that turn yellow when they are fully ripe. Differently from the lemon, the lime pulp is greenish and more sour-bitterish and the peel is green, smoother, thin and rich in essential oils.
From the Lime some hybrids were originated, such as the Limequat, a crossbreed of the Citrus aurantifolia and the Fortunella margarita (commonly called Kumquat).
In America and in the USA, where the lime is very widespread, there are many varieties. We’d like to make it clear that the only true lime is the Citrus aurantifolia, that was introduced in America by the Portuguese in the XVI century and that, since then, is cultivated in Mexico and in Florida (hurricanes permitting, of course).
The Lime from Tahiti (Citrus latifolia)
Some scholars consider it a separate species, but according to others it belongs to the species Citrus aurantifolia. The Citrus latifolia is a variety of lime with oval fruit, slightly bigger than the normal lime fruit and very tasty. At present it is the only variety produced in USA, it is cultivated in California.
The sweet Lime (Citrus lime)
It is very hardy and similar to the lemon fruit, but less sour and with a sweet taste. Since, recently, California stopped producing it, the Citrus lime seems to be cultivated only in some zones of Italy. Its origins are unknown, although for centuries it appeared in the gardens of the Mediterranean Countries. The plant consists of saplings or erected, branched, thorny bushes. The leaves are ovoidal or elliptical, they have pointed apex and very small petioles, normally with wings. The flowers are white: they blossom from spring to autumn, alone or in inflorescences. The fruit are round or slightly long and narrow, with a slight depression at the poles. The peel, rich in essential oils, is yellow, and the pulp is green, juicy, sweetish or slightly acid. The Citrus lime is also appreciated as ornamental plant because it has a high cold resistance and its fruit have a long persistence.
The sweet lime from Rome, or Pursha (Citrus Lime Pursha)
It is probably a hybrid of the lime and the orange or of the lime and the myrtle-leaved orange. The plant consists of bushes with an irregular foliage, elliptical, dark green leaves with a pointed apex; the petiole is slightly winged. The flowers, which blossom continuously from spring to autumn, are white and very fragrant. The fruit are globular and with a depression at the poles; the peel is not sticking to the pulp, which is sweet and sour and tasty. The Citrus Lime Pursha is also appreciated as ornamental plant.
The sweet lime from Palestina (Citrus limettoides)
It is cultivated in India and in Egypt. The fruit is very juicy and practically with no pips. Its taste is not very appreciated because it is a bit too sour, with a sourness that often doesn’t even reach the 0,1%.
This species has saplings or small trees with thorny and irregular branches. The leaves, oval-elliptical with a pointed apex, are light green and have a petiole with no wings.
The flowers, white and fragrant, are single or in inflorescences. The fruit are round, middle-sized and with an umbo sometimes exposed. The peel is yellow and extremely smooth and thin. The pulp is juicy and sweetish. Compared to the other lime varieties it withstands better cold and low temperatures.
The Citrus limonia (Mandarin lime)
It is not a lime plant, even though it is very similar, but it is a hybrid of the lemon and the tangerine. It is cultivated in India, California and Australia and it is used above all to produce jams, that are less bitter but more tasty than the marmalades anyway.
The lime is cultivated above all for the production of essential oil, extracted from the peel. The essential oils of the lime are mainly used in the alimentary industry for the production of drinks, but they are in great demand also in the industry of the perfumes and of the detergents.
Even though it is rarely eaten as fresh fruit, the lime is largely used in the kitchen also as an alternative to the lemon, from which it is different because of its fragrance and its taste, which are more exotic.
The juice, besides in the drinks, is used also as dressing for fruit salads and shellfishes, sometimes combined with curry.
Anyway, it is very appreciated from an ornamental point of view, as an evergreen that, under favourable conditions, blossoms all the year round and has picturesque and long-lived fruit (they can remain on the branches for a long time also together with the flowers of the previous harvest).
Still today many of the London docks are called Limehouse, in memory of the storehouses where the lime, imported from India, was preserved to supply the ships of the English Navy. In that period they discovered that the scurvy, which decimated the sailors during the long journeys on the sea, could be prevented with the vitamin C, contained in the citrus fruit.
The hurricane “Andrew”
In 1992 the notorious hurricane Andrew destroyed irreparably many plantations of Lime (Citrus aurantifolia) between Florida and Mexico.