The Fascinating Biology Of Tahiti Limes
Tahiti lime has emerged among citrus products as a consumer favorite. Learn more about the propagation, production, and consumption of this fascinating fruit.
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The Tahiti lime (also known as the Persian, Bearss, or seedless lime) has become the cornerstone of the lime market. While other limes struggle through adverse conditions, the Tahiti lime has weathered many storms to become a mainstay amongst growers and is prized for its flavor, texture, and versatility as the most widely consumed lime in the world.
Many of us eat this delicious lime without realizing its significance, so let’s take a closer look at what makes the Tahiti lime such a powerhouse in the citrus world.
How Tahiti Limes Are Grown
If you try to grow a Tahitian lime tree from a seed, you might be surprised because it probably won’t produce Tahiti limes, for several reasons:
- Tahiti limes are nearly seedless, so it is hard to even find a seed.
- Of those seeds, less than 1 in 10 will actually produce a plant with Tahiti lime qualities.
- Tahiti limes (Citrus × latifolia) are hybrids, thought to be a cross between citron fruit (Citrus medica), pummelo (Citrus grandis), and Micrantha (Citrus micrantha). Hybrid seeds rarely have the same characteristics as their parents.
- The flowers of a Tahiti lime contain almost no viable pollen and are fertilized by parthenocarpy, meaning any fertile seeds are usually the result of cross-pollination.
Because of this, growers propagate Tahiti limes by cloning. They can use various methods such as T-budding (where a bud from a Tahiti lime is grafted onto a different plant), layering (where a lime branch is buried and grows roots to become an entirely new tree), or air-layering (a portion of a stem is wrapped in growing medium to sprout roots).
However, for careful cultivation of resistant, productive, and healthy plants, most Tahiti limes are grafted onto a strong rootstock. This allows farmers to choose a strong root system that is ideally suited to their particular land and microclimate, and use it to grow a thriving Tahiti lime tree.
In Colombia, three main rootstocks are used:
Volkameriano or Volkamer has the deepest root system, which allows it to reach deep for water and is ideal for steep hillsides and loose soil.
CPB is highly resistant to pests and disease, and is the go-to rootstock for humid areas, or where there have been problems in the past.
Zunki is a highly productive rootstock, ideal for trouble-free level grounded fields.
Benefits of Growing Tahiti Limes
In terms of production, Tahiti limes have many benefits over other lime types. Here are some of the aspects that make this variety a smart choice for growers:
Year-Round Production: Tahiti limes are an “everbearing” fruit. While their main production is during the summer months (usually from November to June in South America), they will bear fruit all year long with dedicated cultivation. Healthy, well cared-for trees generally produce around 20kgs (44 lbs) by their third year after planting, and this yield will increase steadily every year. When fully mature after seven to eight years, a single tree can produce up to 200kgs (450lbs) each year. That said, Farmfolio caps its production projections at 120kgs per year for the sake of taking a conservative approach to forecasting.
Hardiness: Tahiti limes are hardier than many other lime varieties (such as Key Limes, for example). Not only can they withstand temperatures down near freezing, they also need less heat to reach full size, so they will reach maturity faster in areas where other limes would be struggling.
Thornless: Another literal thorn in the side of many lime growers is the presence of sharp spines on the branches. Here again, the Tahiti lime shines as they are nearly thornless. The absence of spines not only reduces the risk of injury to pickers and farmers, but it significantly increases harvest time and improves profits.
As with any cultivated plant, limes can be susceptible to disease, insects, and other pests. Some common problems that beset Tahiti limes are citrus canker, root rot (phytophthora), anthracnose, aphids, scales, and citrus psyllid. Tahiti limes are naturally more resistant to many diseases, but there are many things a good farmer can do to reduce or eliminate bugs and diseases, including:
- Careful monitoring to prevent any problems before they get out of hand.
- Proper nutrition to keep the tree healthy so it can fight off disease and insects
- Correct watering practices, especially to avoid overwatering
- Choosing a disease-resistant rootstock
- Preventative applications of fungicides or pesticides in trouble areas, especially copper fungicides or Neem oil in organic production
- Judicious pruning to remove diseased foliage
Enjoying Tahiti Limes
Where Tahiti limes come from and how they spread around the world isn’t exactly known. It is believed to have originated from the region of Iran (formerly Persia, hence its other common name) and first spread to the Mediterranean. From there, it made its way to Brazil and then to Australia in the early 1800s. Tahiti limes debuted in North America when it arrived from Tahiti just after 1850, and it became an established international crop in the early 1900s.
Tahiti limes are harvested with a striking green rind (although they will actually turn yellow when left to ripen on the tree). They are predominately round and about 4cm to 6cm (1½ to 2 inches) across, and often have slight nippling on the end. They are less acidic and less bitter than many other limes and can be used in a variety of different recipes.
They have a longer shelf life than many other limes (which is beneficial for both growers and consumers), and their nearly seedless nature is a bonus in the kitchen. On top of the culinary prowess, Tahiti limes are also used medicinally and in cosmetics.
Most of the limes in grocery stores are Tahiti limes, and they are available year-round. This is mostly thanks to the dedicated work of farmers in Mexico, Colombia, other parts of South America, and many more farmers around the world.
A Winning Citrus Product
As global food markets face difficulties from climate change, logistical constraints, and international conflict, it's becoming increasingly important to have reliable sources of production for nutrient-dense staple crops like lime. Not only is the Tahiti variety an especially good solution for growers due to its robustness and high production, but it has also become a favorite among consumers for its rich flavor, pleasant color, and seedless quality. Expect this fascinating citrus fruit to remain among the most consumed fresh products on the market for a long time to come.
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