Both oranges and tangerines are brightly colored, succulent and luscious citrus fruits enjoyed by people the world over. Both are subtropical and originally native to Asia. These two fruits come from two very similar trees. Through grafting two cultivars of the same species, it’s possible to get two different types of fruit to grow on the same tree, but it’s not that simple when it comes to citrus fruits like tangerines and navel oranges.
Oranges (Citrus sinensis) typically refer to the type of citrus fruit known as the sweet orange or the navel orange and its varied cultivars, such as the Valencia orange. Orange trees are cold hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 9 to 11. These subtropical fruit trees prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade and are fairly drought tolerant. Oranges are grown for their fruit or as a fragrant specimen plant with showy flowers.
Tangerines (Citrus reticulata) are also called mandarin oranges, leading to some confusion in nomenclature. These trees are cold-hardy from USDA zones 8b to 11 and prefer full sun to partial shade. They are only somewhat drought tolerant, and fruit production suffers if they're left without water for too long. Tangerines are grown for their bright orange, small, sweet fruits or as a specimen tree for their showy springtime blossoms.
Although tangerines are sometimes called mandarin oranges, mandarin "oranges" and sweet oranges are separate and distinct species of the same genus and family. Sweet orange trees grow up to 25 to 30 feet tall while tangerine trees grow to maximum heights of 15 to 20 feet tall. Both trees bear fruit in the fall and winter months, with navel oranges coming into season from October through January and tangerines coming into season in November and December.
Although they share a similar taxonomic classification and tangerines are sometimes grouped in with oranges, they are two different species of two different trees. Grafting an orange tree to a tangerine tree will not work to produce a tree that bears both fruits; oranges and tangerines cannot grow on the same tree. North Dakota State University's Cass County Extension notes that while you could attempt to graft different species together, any surviving tree would be weak. The University of California Cooperative Extension notes that, surprisingly, DNA evidence suggests that the orange itself could actually be a hybrid and may be part mandarin. Although both fruits cannot be borne of the same tree, hybridization of both trees and fruits is possible. “Temple” oranges are a hybrid between the sweet orange (C. sinensis) and the mandarin orange (C. reticulata).
- Floridata: Citrus Sinensis
- Floridata: Citrus Reticulata
- Purdue University: Oranges
- Mountain Mandarins: A Mandarin by Any Other Name
- Purdue University: Mandarin Oranges
- University of Arizona: Mandarins
- Texas A&M University: Home Fruit Production -- Mandarins
- North Dakota State University Cass County Extension: Grafting & Budding Fruit Trees
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