Grapefruit: All About This Plant That Was Named As The “Forbidden Fruit”

Unlike many other citruses, the grapefruit tree isn’t that old. This new subtropical citrus tree originated somewhere in Barbados as an accidental cross between pummelo and orange. The tree belongs to the Rutaceae, also known as the citrus family. Oranges, lemons, limes, and other citruses are also part of the same family. But what is the grapefruit tree, where does it like to grow, and its characteristics? Continue reading, and you’ll find out all about this citrus variety.

The grapefruit tree, or Citrus X Paradisi, is a tall evergreen tree cultivated in most citrus-growing areas of the world for its large fruits. The sour to semi-sweet, somewhat bitter fruits make a popular breakfast in many countries. These nutrient-rich fruits are an excellent source of antioxidants and carry one of the most significant Vitamin C concentrations, surpassed only by oranges and lemons.

Common NameGrapefruit
Botanical NameCitrus X Paradisi
Plant TypeA Perennial Citrus Tree
Size (Fully Grown)15 To 20 Feet (About 4.6 To 6.1 m) Tall
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypePrefers To Grow In Well-draining, Loamy Soil
Soil pHFrom 6.0 To 6.5
Flower ColorWhite
U.S. Hardiness Zones9 And 10
Native AreaBarbados

How Many Grapefruit Varieties Are There?

We have bred many grapefruit varieties, with differences in the trees’ characteristics and fruits. But, without further ado, below, we have listed the most popular grapefruit varieties.

  1. Pomelo
  2. Cocktail
  3. Melogold
  4. Oro Blanco
  5. Red Grapefruit
  6. Pink Grapefruit
  7. White Grapefruit
  8. Flame Grapefruit
  9. Valentine Pummel
  10. Duncan Grapefruit
  11. Sweeties Grapefruit
  12. Ruby Red Grapefruit
  13. Star Ruby Grapefruit
  14. Lavender Gem Grapefruit
  15. Marsh Seedless Grapefruit

The Accidental Beginning: The History Of The Grapefruit Tree

Grapefruit was first documented in 1750 by Griffith Hughes as the “forbidden fruit” from Barbados. It was also called “smaller shaddock” after Captain Shaddock, an English ship commander, first brought the seeds of the fruits ancestor, pummelo, to the West Indies.

Historical records are unclear whether grapefruit was an accident or an intentional hybridization between orange and pummelo. Speaking about pummelo, one of its ancestors comes from Malaysia and Indonesia, while the other one is the Jamaican sweet orange, which is an Asian hybrid.

Though grapefruit came to Florida in 1823, it didn’t become popular because of its tough skin. After the 1830s, the fruit was botanically distinguished from pummelo and documented as Citrus paradisi. Later, the botanical name was changed to Citrus X Paradisi, with the letter X signifying its hybrid origin.

By the 1940s, grapefruit had become one of the favorites of American households. While the fruit is harvested in the U.S. from October to June, it’s also imported off-season since we’re so fond of it! Today, grapefruit is considered by some as one of the “Seven Wonders of Barbados.”

What Does The Grapefruit Tree Look Like?

Grapefruits come from the evergreen grapefruit tree that usually thrives to a height of 15 to 20 ft (about 4,5 to 6,1 meters). But there have also been cases where old grapefruit trees have reached a height of even 45 feet (approximately 13,7 meters). So, as you might expect, the plant is also wide, and the trunk diameter can exceed 6 inches (about 15 cm).

Although they’re generally pretty large trees, grapefruit’s actual size depends on the particular cultivar, the environment it’s growing in, and the kind of care you give it.

Foliage

Grapefruit trees have large, oval-shaped leaves in a glossy dark green color arranged on the stem. Each leaf is about 3 to 6 inches (about 7,5 to 15 cm) long and 1.75 to 3 inches (roughly 4,5 to 7,5 cm) wide. They’re dotted with minute oil glands, and the petiole has obovate wings.

Flowers

The tree bears large, white flowers with a distinct, intense fragrance. They’re either present singly on the leaf axil or in clusters. The flowers are between 0,8 to 1,6 inches (about 2 to 4 cm) in diameter, with 4 to 5 petals and several stamens.

Fruit

The fruit’s shape, size, and color vary between varieties, but most of them are usually round or oblate, about 5 inches (about 13 cm) in diameter with a thick yellow-orange rind. The segmented flesh has a sour, semi-sweet flavor with a hint of bitterness. The flesh color varies with the variety, but you’ll mostly find it in shades of white, pink, or red. The types with red flesh are usually sweeter than others.

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What Kind Of Climate Does A Grapefruit Tree Prefer?

Maintaining a grapefruit tree is usually tricky for new gardeners, but, like any other plant, it will thrive if you give it the right conditions. If you’re living in growing zones nine or above, having a thriving grapefruit tree in your backyard shouldn’t be a problem at all. However, it would be helpful to learn a little more about climate and the care these trees have to help them grow.

How Cold Can A Grapefruit Tree Tolerate?

Growing grapefruit trees in temperate regions like zones 9 and 10 in the U.S. is relatively easy. You may even pull off a thriving tree in USDA zones 7 and 8, but the plant will ask for a bit more attention. Grapefruit seeds germinate fastest in warm conditions, with temperatures ranging from 70 to 80°F (about 21 to 27°C).

Transplant young grapefruit trees to your garden in spring once all dangers of frost have passed. Choose a south-facing, sunny spot in your garden where it stays comparatively warmer through the winters. The plant grows best when the temperature is between 60°F to 85°F (about 15,5 to 30°C). As you might expect, low temperatures will adversely affect the fruits’ shape, size, and sweetness.

Soil And Sun

The best spot to grow this plant is a southwest corner of your home that gets plenty of direct sunlight and offers some frost protection for the winters. Ensure that the location is at least 12 inches (about 30 cm) away from constructions to allow ample growth space. Grapefruit trees prefer to grow in well-draining loamy soil. But I also urge you to amend the bed with plenty of aged compost before planting the young tree.

Water And Fertilizing Needs

Maintain consistently moist soil while the tree is still young, but let the top dry out between waterings. For the first two weeks after planting, it’s best to water every few days so the plant can build its root system effectively. After that, you can limit the frequency to deep watering once a week. You can also include a light water-soluble fertilizer in the water once a month.

Is It Safe To Eat / Consume Grapefruits?

The plant is packed with antioxidants, nutrients, and fibers, so grapefruits are one of the most nutritious citrus fruits you’ll find. In addition, they offer several health benefits, including weight loss and reduced risks of certain cancers and heart diseases. But, is there anyone who should avoid consumption or excess consumption of the fruit? Let’s take a look.

Pregnant And Breastfeeding Women

Grapefruits are rich in vitamins and minerals, making them very healthy, especially for pregnant and breastfeeding women. But, since there isn’t much information on whether excess consumption poses any threat, it’s better to stay safe and only consume in moderation.

Children

As long as the plant is consumed in moderate amounts, grapefruits are healthy for children, even babies, and help build their immune systems.

People With Allergies

If you’re allergic to citrus fruits, you’ll most likely be allergic to grapefruits as well. Consult a doctor to learn if you can include grapefruits in your diet.

People With Medical Conditions

Women who have breast cancer or are at risk of developing one should avoid drinking grapefruit juice in excess amounts since research suggests that excessive consumption can increase your body’s estrogen levels.

Those with heart muscle diseases and irregular heartbeat should avoid excessive consumption of the fruit since it may worsen the symptoms.

Those with hormone-sensitive conditions should avoid grapefruits altogether since the fruit can increase your body’s hormone levels.

People With Diabetes

Although it’s a rich source of many nutrients, people with diabetes should avoid this fruit since it can interact with many medications. If you’re on medications, consult your doctor to ensure that you can include grapefruits in your diet. If you’re not on medication, grapefruits with a glycemic index of 25 are likely safe for you as long as they’re consumed in moderate amounts.

Pets

The grapefruit tree is toxic to your pets, so make sure they don’t go near it. Even the fruit itself is harmful to your dogs and can result in grapefruit poisoning. Contact a veterinarian right away if you learn that your dog has ingested any part of the fruit, including the flesh, rind, and seeds.

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