The clementine is a hybrid of a mandarin and a sweet orange. The Latin name, reticulata refers to the netted, fibrous pith between the peel and the fruit. This trait has been described as zipper skinned. Another reference to the skin is "kid-gloved" which refers to the soft supple leathery skin that is comparable to the soft leather of kid skin gloves, something delicate, that should be handled with care. Since it is orange in color, “seedless”, and the skin is easily peeled, it is a tangerine and a Satsuma, which are types of mandarin. Don’t be confused. These hybrids are abundant and cross-pollinate readily, botany has classified anything that tastes like and comes from a mandarin, as a mandarin.
There are conflicting theories over the origin of the clementine. A popular view is that Father Clement Rodier grew the first tree on the grounds of his missionary in Algeria in the Early 1900’s. The other view is that the mutated variety of the mandarin was discovered before the twentieth century in China and trickled into the Mediterranean regions of Europe and Japan (Satsuma). Spain began commercial production in 1925. The fruit was introduced to the United States in 1909 and growing began at the Citrus Research Center of Riverside California around the same time. It didn’t become a popular fruit until an orange shortage in 1982. It typically ripens in late November, so it fast became associated with the holidays. The lack of seeds, sweet taste and easily peeled skin have made it one of the most popular fruits in the United States.
Clementines grow in Spain, the U.K. (November – February), Chile (August – October), Morocco, S. Africa, Australia, New Zealand (June – August), and the United States (November – May). They prefer moderate climates with hot days and cool nights. It can be grown in pots. It is self-pollinating and if pollinated by insects, will produce many large seeds. Clementine trees are short with green pointed leaves, some varieties produce thorns but usually the thorns disappear when the tree is mature. Fruit production varies though pruning increases yield.
Types of Clementines:
- Arrufina (falina): 1968 mutant of fina
- Corsica 1 and 2: New Zealand variety of fina, sweet tangy taste April – July
- Clementard: like hernandina but less bright
- De Nules: large, high sugar, bright aromatic skin, November- end of January
- Esbal: a 1966 mutant of fina
- Fina: very small, deep orange, December to end of February
- Hernandina: small, bright orange though color sometimes does not develop, available after February, has few seeds
- Marisol: a 1970 mutant of oroval, tart taste, yellow to light orange, November tends to drop fruit in heavy rain
- Oronul: small size, sweet taste, vibrant color, late November, limited production
- Oroval: high sugar, bright color, some seeds, early to late November
- Tomatera: medium size (between De Nules and Fina), red orange, seedless late December, very rare.
The hybrid mutant varieties are abundant.
These little fruits are delicious and the crates they come in can be used for a variety of household uses. There is even an artist in Connecticut named Kari Lonning that uses the popular and colorful Darling Clementine crates for her art.