The Era of the Mandarin.

By Ed Laivo

The Mandarin has taken the lead in popularity over the Washington (Navel) Orange. The desire to sell mandarins, what was once considered fruit too small to market, resulted in a brilliant marketing campaign that allowed fruit once relegated to roadside stands to become the #1 citrus fruit sold today. The Mandarin variety that lead this charge is the ClementineMandarin. The successful marketing that allowed for the Mandarins sharp rise in popularity was prebagged fruit with a clever brand name. The strong demand lead to numerousdifferent varieties of mandarins being grown to fulfil the ever-growing demand. Today, bagged mandarins under various namebrands, have become recognized for what they are, the world’s most popular orange.

The mandarin has been recognized for its superior qualities in China since the 3rd century AD; however, the mandarin has been slow to gain popularity in the United States. First reference was in New Orleans in the 1840’s. The Italian consul brought plants from Italy with the first plantings occurring in the southern coastal states including Florida. By the late 1800’s two primary varieties, the Willow Leaf and the King are introduced and become the first commercially grown varieties. Around 1876 the Owari Satsuma mandarin is introduced from Japan and would become the #1 variety of mandarin grown in the United States for the next 100 years 

Though often referred to as a Tangerine, in fact only one variety has the name Tangerine. The Dancy Tangerine, which was introduced in 1867 as a Tangerine, because the origin of the parent plant was Tangiers. It in fact it is botanically a mandarin as well.  

    Mandarins have a distinct flavor all their own, it is a classicMandarin flavor which is not an orange. In many varieties the acidity of the Mandarin is masked by the intense sweetness of the fruit mixed with the rich Mandarin flavor. It almost eats like a sub-acid fruit. Other high acid selections are unique and flavorful.  

Owari Satsuma                                                                                                                                  

After over 100 years the Satsuma remains one of the most popular varieties planted. This is most likely due to the wide range of adaptability. Able to tolerate temperatures into the mid to low 20’s, not only is it one of the hardiest mandarins but one of the hardiest citruses grown. It has also been identified as being more resistant to disease problems common to other citrusvarieties.

Seedless, easy to peel, most often the first mandarin to ripen, theSatsuma is hard to beat when you add its cold hardiness and let us not forget the great Flavor! A perfect choice for container growing.

But as the popularity of mandarins stayed relatively flat for so long, with the newfound popularity over the last 20 years many new Mandarin varieties have been introduced or have been rediscovered. These new selections have far superior flavor, size and cropping habits than most selections from the past. 

Clementine Mandarin the variety that kicks off the new interest in mandarins in the early 2000’s is not a new variety at all, The Clementine is quite possibly a descendant of an ancient Chinese mandarin variety called Canton. It was introduced into California in 1917 and was an immediate standout. Still not until the introduction of the bagged mandarins would even this variety achieve notoriety. Today, through hybridization, there are many strains of Clementine’s that ripen at different times allowing commercial growers the opportunity to harvest over a longer period. For the home garden the Algerian Clementine and the Clementina de Nules are seedless when isolated from other citrus varieties, easy to peel and harvests early between October and January. Right off the tree the Clementine is an exceptionally fine flavored fruit. 

This Era of the Mandarin has produced a bounty of exceptional flavored varieties that ripen over a long period of time. Outstanding flavored varieties with a wide range of flavors to appeal to almost any taste. Varieties such as:

Tango Mandarin introduced in 2008 from the University of California at Riverside’s breeding program. This high producing selection of mandarin is seedless and peels easy. Higher in acid than other new selections, the Tango is a sweet sprightly flavored fruit that will delight all that like a little tasty tang to their mandarin. This is a late season variety that comes off in the beginning of spring. Very consistent in color and size the Tango has become a popular commercial variety

Kishu Seedless Mandarin, this is the best variety for those who like bite-size fruit that peels with ease, early ripening inNovember its sweet juicy flavor will keep you eating them like candy. 

Pixie Mandarin ripens in early to mid-January, the flavor of the Pixie Mandarin cannot be overstated. The harvest period isamazing, harvest begins in January and the fruit is sweet and firm. The harvest continues for months with the sweetness just getting better. By June, the fruit remains hanging and flavorful until you pick the last one. The trees upright growth habit makesit a perfect choice for planting in tight spaces, screening, espalier, or container planting.

Gold Nugget Mandarin– fast becoming one of the most popular varieties planted, this variety leads the pack in flavor, and extended harvest! A taste test winner in many trails making it the highest rated of all mandarins. Coming ripe in mid-Februaryit is not uncommon to be picking fruit as late as September. Upright in growth habit makes it a great choice for tight plantings, screening, espaliers, as well as a great container tree. 

Page Tangelo– The Page mandarin is not technically a mandarin. A hybrid cross of the Minneola Tangelo and the Clementine Mandarin resulted in one of the most intense rich flavored mandarin of all.  The parents alone suggest that this is a unique cross of two special citrus varieties. Ripening in December this variety is ready to enjoy around the Christmas holiday. A dependable cropping variety with medium size, this deep orange skinned fruit just looks special. Add seedless and easy to peel and the Page mandarin just might be an up and coming candidate for the best of the best.  

This is the beginning of the Era of the Mandarin there are other varieties that are gaining popularity every day. Varieties to watch for on the horizon are W S Murcott, Lee x Nova, and the awesome Shiranui. But these giants shared here will be around for years to come Do not miss out on another crop of delightful Mandarins to enjoy from your garden.