Clementines are entirely the fruit of human ingenuity. They first appeared in Algeria in the late 19th century, as a result of crossing a sweet orange with a mandarine. They differ from the latter in that they have no pips, are easy to peel and have a sweeter taste. In addition, they can be kept for longer, a fact which soon made them very popular. They need a cool, sunny climate to grow and must be sheltered from the wind. The branches must be pruned regularly for sustained production.
A recent hybrid
In the 19th century, citrus fruit cultivation became widespread around the Mediterranean region, and included mandarines, which have a sweet flavour but grow slowly with irregular fruit quality. In 1892, Brother Clément (1839 - 1904), head of cultivation at an orphanage in Oran in Algeria, crossed an orange with a mandarin orange. This union produced an easy-peeling fruit with no pips and a very sweet flavour, the clementine, which also ripens much faster than a mandarine. As soon as they were created, clementines were distributed throughout Europe, Asia and the rest of the world and gradually replaced mandarines, thenceforth relegated to second place.
Cultivating clementines, from grafting to planting
Clementine tree seedlings require a cool, sunny climate. They develop in a nursery, by taking cuttings (creating a clone genetically identical to the mother plant) or by layering or seeding. They are then planted in large pots of earth or directly in the ground, with plenty of space around them, in the sun and sheltered from the wind. Irrigation and the use of fertiliser are essential to the growth and development of the fruit. However, potted clementine trees require far less watering than trees planted directly in the ground.
As the tree grows, the branches must be pruned to remove the dead wood and air the tree after fructification. This encourages new branches to grow and bear new fruit.
Clementines are fragile and are hand-picked to ensure they keep for longer.
A hybrid citrus fruit
The clementine tree is a hybrid tree resulting from crossing an orange tree with a mandarine tree. It belongs to the Rutaceae family and its fruit is smaller than that of the mandarine tree. Its foliage is evergreen and can grow up to five or six metres in height. Like any citrus fruit, clementines must be picked when fully ripe as they do not continue to ripen after being harvested. However, they can be kept for several weeks, as long they are stored in a cool place.
An ingenious discovery
Like the seedless banana, clementines do not exist in the wild. They are entirely the fruit of human ingenuity. Our eating habits and taste buds were soon won over by the hybrids’ easy peeling and pleasant taste, to the detriment of the original but less predictable mandarine.
JACQUEMOND, Camille, CURK, Franck, HEUZET, Marion, 2013. Les clémentiniers et autres petits agrumes. Paris : Éditions Quae.
POLESE, Jean-MARIE, 2008. La culture des agrumes. Paris : Éditions Artemis.