16 May

Map of the Week: Citriculture around the World

By Thomas Jang

Citriculture is the cultivation of citrus fruits such as oranges, grapefruits, lemons, limes, and tangerines. These fruits are grown all over the world and together have significantly grown in economic and cultural value. 

Citrus is a genus found in the taxonomic family Aurantioideae. Including Citrus, there are 33 genera that grow throughout Asia, Africa, and Polynesia. Origins of certain citrus fruits such as tangerines (mandarins) and trifoliate oranges can be traced back at least eight million years ago to an area encompassing the Indian subcontinent’s northeast region and Myanmar. Scientists have also been able to predict they subsequently spread to the southern and central region of what is today China. A few million years later, pomelos and citrons emerged most likely in the foothills of the Himalayas. Other scientists suggest citrus fruit emerged from the northeast region of the Australian continent. 

For millennia, citrus fruits have been produced and consumed within the regions they grew in, becoming symbols for wealth or prestige in certain cultures. However, it was not until the early 20th century when they were exchanged on a much more lucrative and global scale. Moreover, the variety of citrus fruits has nonetheless exploded due to artificial selection and hybridization of certain species conducted by humans. As a matter of fact, artificial hybridization of various citrus fruits has resulted in a larger diversity of crops than that of apples and grapes. 

Oranges are known by their scientific name Citrus sinensis. In terms of their geographical and economic distribution, Brazil, China, Mexico, and the US state of Florida are the leading producers of this fruit. In fact, Brazil is the largest processor of fruit and the world’s largest exporter of juices and essential oils. Specifically, Brazil’s largest producer of citrus is São Paulo. 

Grapefruits, known as Citrus paradisi, make up most citrus production in South Africa, China, and Türkiye. The citrus fruit’s white and pink varieties are grown the most in Mexico and Florida. 

Among lemons, also known as Citrus limon, are produced the most in Argentina and Spain. They also account for a significant portion of citrus production in the US and Mexico. 

Two varieties of lime include key limes and Tahitian or Persian limes, respectively known as Citrus latifolia and Citrus aurantiifolia. Whereas key limes contain seeds and grow in larger sizes and similar colors, Persian limes are seedless and smaller, yet grow in different colors. While Peru and other parts of Mexico grow key limes, Brazil and Mexico’s Gulf Coast produce Persian limes. 

Tangerines or mandarins, also known as Citrus reticulata, are produced the most in Spain and California. Other countries who produce great amounts of tangerines include Japan, Morocco, Argentina, and China. 

Amongst the global trade of fruits, citrus makes up the largest economic value. Compared to grapefruits, pomelos and limes, oranges still dominate citrus production. In the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO)’s 2020 Statistical Bulletin for fresh and processed citrus fruit, published in 2021, the total production of citrus fruits (in thousand tonnes) per region was 589.6 in the Caribbean; 9,676.8 in Central America; 10,537.8 in Europe; 15,043.4 in North America; 15,579.3 in Africa; 27,736.3 in South America; and 71,887.8 in Asia. 

More recently, according to 2022-2023 data by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s Foreign Agricultural Service, Brazil leads the world in orange production—producing 16.75 million metric tons (MMT). It is followed by China at 7.6 MMT, the European Union (EU) at 5.86 MMT, Mexico at 4.2 MMT, and Turkiye at 1.32 MMT. Also within the same period, Brazil was still the top producer of citrus, specifically in orange and orange juice. In addition, China is the second-biggest producer of citrus, specifically in tangerines and grapefruits. It is followed by Mexico, as the largest producer of lemons and limes.