Lemon Tree Very Pretty : A New Novelty Variety Has Two-Tone Leaves and Fruit

<i> Robert Smaus is an associate editor of Los Angeles Times Magazine. </i>

NEW VARIETIES of apples, peaches and plums appear every year. The standard lemon, ‘Eureka,’ however, was introduced in 1918, and nothing has really happened since. At various times there have been new selections and hybrids, but only a very few have endured because the differences just weren’t that great.

Until now. ‘Sungold,’ a new lemon variety, has bright green stripes streaking across its yellow rind, and the foliage is similarly variegated. Except for the variegations, it is an ordinary lemon, probably a sport of a ‘Eureka,’ and it’s just as useful in the kitchen. (A similar novelty lemon--with variegated leaves and fruit, and pink flesh and juice--was introduced in the 1930s, but it did not endure.)

Discovered by University of California plant pathologist Milton Harjung growing in a Tustin orchard that has long since been bulldozed, ‘Sungold’ was preserved by Harjung’s son, Cameron, who patented and introduced it.


According to the Harjungs, the streaking is not likely to disappear as the plant matures. (Do not confuse the stripes with those bizarre shapes and streaks sometimes seen on citrus that are caused by citrus bud mites, or with that yellow and green foliage caused by a lack of iron or other trace elements.)

The true value of ‘Sungold’ may be as a landscape plant--especially when contrasted with solid-green shrubs. Variegated shrubs make dramatic accents in the garden, but not that many are available. This lemon would also make a fascinating hedge, with the thorns typical to most lemons making it close to impenetrable.

Lemons attain a height of 20 feet or more if grown on their own roots. Most often, however, they are grown on Rubidoux trifoliate orange roots, which tends to reduce their size by 40%; usually this is what you get labeled “dwarf.” ’Sungold’ is being grown on the trifoliate roots; it can be expected to grow to about 10 to 12 feet in time. Pruning will keep it smaller, as will growing it in a container. Containers, even large ones, tend to keep citrus at about five feet.

‘Sungold’ is not yet common at nurseries, but it is available. One grower will sell retail: Walker-Vice Nursery, 11050 Mystery Mountain Road, Valley Center (in San Diego County); telephone (619) 749-1615. Now might be a very good time to start your own little grove. Bob Vice warns that citrus of all kinds will be in limited supply this year because of the severe freezes last December and that the price of lemons in markets is going to be high. ‘Sungold,’ Vice says, is a little hardier in the cold than ‘Eureka’ lemons are.

Most lemons (and limes) should be pruned once a year--preferably in March, says Don Durling of Durling’s Nursery in Fallbrook. Because the fruit is produced on old growth, pruning doesn’t discourage fruiting, but it does keep the trees in line. All commercial lemon groves are pruned once, or even twice, a year.