People use limes raw as a garnish on food or in drinks, or use the juice in beverages or in recipes for baked or grilled foods. Limes are citrus fruits that grow well in tropical climates. However, there are also dwarf varieties available for container growing in cold-weather areas. Limes are extremely cold sensitive and cannot tolerate freezing. Lime trees can grow in South Florida, the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas, some areas of California and elsewhere in USDA plant hardiness zones 10b and 11.
There are two major types of limes, the Mexican and the Tahiti. The Mexican lime tree grows from 6 1/2 to 13 feet high. The fruit is small, round and 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Also known as the key lime, because it grows in the Florida Keys, people often use it in key lime pie. The rind changes from green to more yellow when mature. "The flesh is greenish-yellow, juicy, seedy, and more acidic than Tahiti limes," as described by the University of Florida Extension.
Tahiti limes are also known as Bearss lime and Persian lime. Tahiti lime trees are somewhat larger than Mexican lime trees and can grow to 20 feet high. The Tahiti lime fruits are oval shaped and 2.75 inches long and up to 2.5 inches in diameter. The fruit is dark green when commercially mature and gradually turns yellow when fully mature. "The flesh is light green, juicy, slightly acidic, and generally seedless," according to the University of Florida. Both Tahiti and Mexican limes have the traditional lime aroma.
Although the origin of the sweet lime is uncertain, horticulturalists think it resulted from a cross between a Mexican lime and a sweet lemon. However, the tree resembles the Tahiti lime. The fruit is similar in size to the Tahiti lime. Sweet limes are not grown in Florida because of their susceptibility to disease. In California, the sweet lime tree grows in both coastal regions and desert areas.
Sweet limes can be eaten fresh or cooked. The fruit is often eaten out-of-hand in Central America and the West Indies. When the peel is hand pressed it smells like lemon instead of lime.
Mexican lime trees are small enough that they can be grown in containers. In addition, many nurseries sell dwarf varieties of Mexican or Tahiti limes that are suitable for container growing in areas that experience freezing weather. In those areas, it is possible to grow a dwarf variety provided you bring it indoors before freezing temperatures arrive. However, not all dwarf lime trees are true limes. If you have any doubts about growing a particular lime tree in your area, check with your county extension agent or local nursery for recommendations.