Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The species names of citrus - a sweet, sour, and sticky mess

Everybody knows the great and tasty citrus fruits - lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, tangerine, and clementine, and maybe even the more rare bergamot, pomelo, tangelo, kumquat, yuzu, and tangelo.

Various slices of citrus fruits.  (Image from USDA, public domain.)
Since ancient times these plants have been cultivated, domesticated, and used by humans, and hybridization (on purpose or accidental) have created new hybrids. Citrus plants really do like to hybridize and since many of these hybridization and domestication events happened in the past it has been really hard to figure out these questions:
1) What is a species? (biological boundaries and evolution)
2) What is a hybrid? (= cross between two species, biology, evolution, and genetics)
3) What are the parent species of a hybrid? (genetics)
4) What is the correct scientific name for a species or a hybrid? (scientific nomenclature)

With the help of Dr. David Mabberley, an expert on the genus Citrus, I tried to sort this out since so many scientific names for citrus used on beauty and body products are inconsistent and sometimes flat out wrong and need to be updated. Please note that this is a work in progress for science, and that more research is needed to clarify relationships further.  Citrus relationships are a very messy business, indeed. So, here is the most up-to-date information, as far as I can discern.

This is a summary picture of the current hypotheses of the relationships of the most common species and hybrids of Citrus:

Origins and scientific names for the most commonly cultivated citrus fruits. 
Based on data from D.J. Mabberley's publications.

In botanical taxonomy a species (*) can only have one current and unique scientific name.  Other names are synonyms and their use should be phased out, and only be listed as synonyms in publications. This is to ease the communication and understanding in botany, horticulture, ethnobotany, and agriculture. We should all know what we talk about and we should talk about the same thing when we use a species name, right?
(* except for some fungi, but the mycologists are sorting that out now too, slowly. )

Hybrids either get their parents' names with an 'x' in between parent names (mother listed first), or a brand new species epithet preceded by a 'x'.  So, in the figure above, the name for orange can be listed as Citrus maxima x Citrus reticulata, or Citrus x aurantium.  You often see the name Citrus sinensis or Citrus x sinensis for oranges, but those are synonym names that should not be used anymore.

The group Citrus x aurantium includes a large array of different cultivars and varieties, such as orange, tangor, grapefruit, bitter orange, clementine and tangelo.  This is because the initial hybrids where then back-crossed to different parents, so Citrus x aurantium is really a large hybrid complex. 

So, what are then the most up to date names for cultivated and commercial citrus fruits? Here they are:

Common name
Current scientific name
Common inaccurate botanical and ingredient names
Citrus × limon
Citrus aurantium var. bergamia, Citrus bergamia
bitter orange
Citrus × aurantium
Citrus amara, Citrus aurantium ssp. amara, Citrus iyo
Citrus reticulata
Citrus x reticulata
Citrus medica
Citrus medica var. acida
Citrus × aurantium
Citrus clementina
Citrus × aurantium
Citrus paradisi, Citrus × paradisi
kaffir lime (now called makrut lime)
Citrus hystrix

Citrus japonica

Citrus × limon
Citrus limon, Citrus medica var. limon
Citrus × aurantiifolia
Citrus aurantifolia
makrut lime
Citrus hystrix

Citrus reticulata
Citrus x reticulata
Citrus × aurantium
Citrus aurantium, Citrus aurantium var. sinensis, Citrus sinensis, Citrus × sinensis
Citrus maxima
Citrus grandis
Citrus reticulata
Citrus unshiu
Tahiti lime (seedless)
Citrus x latifolia

Citrus × aurantium
Citrus tangelo
Citrus reticulata
Citrus x reticulata,  Citrus × tangerina
Citrus × aurantium
Citrus nobilis, Citrus x nobilis
Citrus × junos
Citrus junos

Many of the commercial, non-commercial, government or non-profit databases and publications do not use these updated names.  They are often lagging behind and changing names take time.

Want to read more about the delicious history and taxonomy of citrus plants?  Try these scientific papers if you want something more substantial than Wikipedia
    Mabberley, D. J. 1997. A classification for edible Citrus (Rutaceae). Telopea 7: 167-172.
    Mabberley, D. J. 2004. Citrus(Rutaceae): A review of recent advances in etymology, systematics, and medical applications. Blumea 49: 481-498 
     Zhang, D. & D. J. Mabberley.  Citrus in Flora of China. [Lots of interesting information here!]
    Li, X., R. Xie, Z. Lu, & Z. Zhou. 2010. The origin of cultivated Citrus as inferred from internal transcribed spacer and chloroplast DNA sequence and Amplified Fragment Length Polymorphism fingerprints. Journal of the American Society for Horticultural Science 135: 341-350. [Note - some of their results do not agree with the parent hypotheses presented above.]
    (Many thanks to Dr. David J. Mabberley for expert help and information for this post.)