x Citrofortunella microcarpa ‘Variegata’
The variegated calamondin belongs to an interesting group of plants that is a garden hybrid of two different citrus genera – Citrus and Fortunella. That’s why the ‘x’ appears before the genus name – denoting a bigeneric hybrid. This botanical trivia, however, has little relevance to the virtues of this versatile and attractive small citrus tree or shrub that is ornamental rather than palatable.
It is an evergreen, bushy shrub or small tree clothed in leathery leaves that are variegated green with irregular cream and white markings and blotches. During spring and summer, an abundance of white, waxy, five-petalled flowers adorn the plants, lending a sweet fragrance to the garden for weeks on end. Small orange-like fruits then develop, turning bright orange as they ripen in late autumn and into winter. The fruits are largely inedible, although certain palates seem to be tempted by the allure of the bitter flavour. They can be used to make a delicious liqueur or fruit preserve.
Calamondins grow best in rich, loamy, well-drained soils, and enjoy full sunshine. Protect them from prevailing winds – especially cold, winter blasts with an icy ‘chill factor’. They can only withstand light frosts and prefer warmer climates. They’re easy to grow and benefit from regular applications of fertiliser throughout the growing season. Be on the lookout for red spider mite and red scale – which accumulate on stems and leaves. Treat these immediately upon detection, in order to keep the plants healthy. Many plants are propagated by budding onto a different citrus rootstock. In such cases, check for growth from the rootstock and remove this at once. Any stems or new growth that appear as plain green foliage, must be removed to safeguard the variegation. Prune lightly in early spring to keep plants in shape.
These compact-growing citrus trees are fabulous container specimens for patios, courtyards and swimming-pool surrounds. They can be left to grow as rounded shrubs or trained into standards with a globose head on top of a clean stem. Other garden uses include specimen shrubs, boundary hedging, feature plants in formal herb gardens – or use them anywhere that a special evergreen plant is needed to make an impact.
This highly ornamental and versatile citrus tree is grossly underutilised in our local gardens. This could be because in most nurseries and garden centres calamondins are displayed with the edible citrus trees. Perhaps the garden trade will relocate the calamondins away from the fruit-tree section, and our gardens will be richer for the move. Use these charming plants to enhance your garden, and enrich your lifestyle with a sip or two of calamondin liqueur!