The ‘kumquat’ is a most useful and versatile plant that bears attractive fruit.
Its neat, compact growth habit makes FORTUNELLA japonica (kumquat) a highly desirable ornamental plant for gardens all around South Africa. Its oval-shaped fruit are 12 to 25 mm long, have a fleshy rind with a sweet flavour and juicy flesh with a distinct tartness. The whole fruit is edible, a unique feature amongst citrus, although it must be stressed that kumquats are somewhat of an acquired taste. The plant originates from southern China and parts of Malaysia and is cultivated all around the world today.
The kumquat grows into a large shrub or small tree with a neat and tidy shape. It is evergreen and has small, dark green, willow-like leaves and very few thorns. Small, white, fragrant ‑ flowers precede the decorative fruit, which ripens in autumn and winter and can hang on the trees for months on end. This attribute enhances the ornamental value of the kumquat enormously, ensuring that the brightly coloured fruit make a long lasting impression in the garden.
Easy To Grow
Plant F. japonica in a sunny position in well-drained soil that you have enriched with copious amounts of good garden compost. Beware of burying the plant too deeply as this can lead to ‘collar rot’, which can damage and even kill young trees. Regular monthly applications of a balanced fertiliser during spring and summer are essential if the tree is to produce a heavy crop of fruit. Water mature plants well during dry periods to prevent stress, especially when the fruit are starting to colour, because stress can lead to premature fruit drop. Kumquats are amongst the most cold and frost hardy of all the citrus plants and can be grown in all but the coldest regions of South Africa. Commercially available kumquat plants are budded onto rootstock so any growth that develops from below the bud union must be removed to prevent the rootstock from taking over the plant.
A Diverse Range Of Garden Uses
Besides being an attractive addition to the home garden fruit orchard, kumquats come into their own as ornamental garden plants. They have been popular pot or container subjects for many a year and are becoming even more popular as gardeners look for plants that are both attractive and productive. They can be pruned or trained into topiary standards or clipped into compact spherical shapes, which makes them ideal subjects for the formal gardens that are very much in fashion now. In the East they are often used as a bonsai plant for table decoration. In a townhouse garden they can be used as stand alone specimen shrubs or small trees and in large landscapes they can be developed into attractive clipped or trimmed hedges. Their value as a versatile and reliable garden plant seems to be never ending.
In the northern hemisphere the fruit and foliage is used extensively for decoration purposes during the festive season. In the East, the fresh fruits are used as palate cleansers between different food courses at dinner parties. The ripe fruits are ideal for making sauces for rich meats such as duck, pork and even goose, with the tart pulp and aromatic skins lending a distinctive ‑ flavour. Kumquat preserves and marmalade are popular additions to many food tables in South Africa, with the preserves combining deliciously with many types of cheese. Kumquats soaked in brandy and brown sugar make for a most palatable liqueur. Certainly the kumquat is most underutilised at present, but the future is sure to see more and more of these charming trees and shrubs being planted around the country.