Citrus limon is the botanical name for the ‘Eureka’ lemon, the ever popular smooth-skinned lemon that is used extensively in households all around the country. C. limon originates from Asia, although the commercial cultivar ‘Eureka’ is of Californian origin. It was discovered in Los Angeles in 1858 and is believed to be of Italian stock. Today it is one of the most widely grown fruit trees in orchards and in the home garden. A robust evergreen tree, the ‘Eureka’ lemon can attain a mature height of around 5 metres. Its leaves are large, leathery and aromatic, and borne on slightly drooping branches with very few thorns. New growth tips are tinged with a distinctive purple colour. White, sweetly scented flowers with a purple blush are produced in abundance at regular intervals throughout the year, ensuring that lemons are available almost all year round. Mature ‘Eureka’ lemon trees generally have ripe fruit on them all the time, except when unfavourable climatic conditions lead to stress and the loss of fruit and flowers.
The lemons produced by Eureka are described as being of medium size (80 to 120 mm in length) and oval shaped with a distinctive sharp point on one end. The rind is yellow when ripe and the flesh greenish-yellow with plenty of highly acidic juice. Fruit generally hold on the tree for a reasonable period, but they are best picked as soon as they are ripe because they lose juice and acidity if they hang for too long. Also, if allowed to drop off‑ the tree, one has to contend with a mess of decomposing fruit under the tree. A ‘Eureka’ is a definite must in every garden, no matter how large or small, provided that the climate is suitable for sustaining reasonable growth and good health. They are attractive specimen plants in the ornamental garden, are ideal for Tuscan gardens, make excellent subjects for large pots in formal garden settings and are obviously quite at home in the suburban orchard. ‘Eureka’ lemons even make attractive and highly eff‑ective large hedges for screening purposes.
Plant lemon trees in full sun, preferably in rich, well drained soils that are slightly acidic. Water the trees well during periods of poor rainfall. Regular applications of fertiliser high in nitrogen and potassium every six weeks during the growing season from August to April will ensure optimum fruit production. Trees can be pruned in early spring to reduce their height and allow for ease of fruit harvesting. Any old, unproductive or dead wood must be removed at the same time. Always be on the lookout for any growth appearing from the rootstock as most lemon trees are propagated by means of budding. The rootstock usually has different foliage to the ‘Eureka’ lemon. This rootstock growth must be removed as soon as it is identified by cutting off‑ cleanly against the stem.
The fruit has culinary and other household uses that are simply too numerous to elaborate on in this article. Besides being extremely rich in vitamin C the fruit also contain vitamins A and B and various minerals, which, along with the vast amounts of citric acid, make lemons an important ingredient in medicines and proprietary food stuff‑s. The bleaching and cleansing properties of the acid also mean that lemon juice is used in detergents and cleaning agents. The refreshing aroma of the fruit and flowers, along with the distinctive flavour, ensures that lemons remain amongst the most popular flavouring and deodorising agents.
Each and every one of us should really make space for at least a second ‘Eureka’ lemon tree because one of its only shortcomings is a relatively brief lifespan. If we plant a new tree every 10 to 15 years there will always be a young and vigorous specimen to take over from an aging relative as it graciously comes to the end of its productive life.
Other lemon cultivars that are similar to the smooth skinned ‘Eureka’ include ‘Lisbon’ and ‘Meyer’. There are numerous other varieties originating from various parts of the Mediterranean, however, many of them are not readily available in South Africa.