The Era of the Mandarin
Marketing has played a huge role in bringing to the forefront one of the most wonderful categories of fruit, the Mandarin. With the introduction of bagged Clementine Mandarins under various brands beginning in the mid-2000's, the Mandarin has quickly become recognized for what it is: the world’s finest fruit.
The Mandarin has been recognized for its superior qualities in China since the 3rd century AD. Its introduction into the United States would not occur until the 1840's when the Italian consul brought one to New Orleans, La. from Italy. From this point, it was introduced to the southern coastal states, Florida and finally to California.
The Mandarin, sometimes mistakenly called a Tangerine (which is a marketing name for one Mandarin variety), represents a category of mostly small, seedless, easy-to-peel, wonderfully flavored fruit. Mandarins have a distinct flavor all their own; it is a Mandarin 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 seems like a sub-acid fruit.
In the late 1800’s, Mandarin names like the ‘Willow Leaf’, the ‘King’ and the ‘Oneco’ were introduced into the U.S. The #1 variety of Mandarin for the next 100 years - the ‘Owari’ Satsuma - arrived around 1876.
The Owari proved the most adaptable of all Mandarin varieties and remains that today. It is the most cold-hardy of all mandarins, tolerating temperatures in the mid- to low-20s. It was immediately identified as being more resistant to disease problems common to other Citrus varieties.
Today, Owari remains the most popular variety of Mandarin planted in the home-garden. Seedless, easy to peel, most often the first to ripen, the Owari is hard to beat when you add its cold hardiness and let’s not forget the great flavor!
But in the last 20 years, many new Mandarin varieties have been introduced or have been rediscovered. These newer selections have tremendous qualities that make them standouts as superior fruits, aside from just being Mandarins.
The Clementine is a stand out as the primary variety used for the popular bagged Mandarins introduced the early 2000’s. There are many varieties 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 is seedless, easy to peel and harvests between October and January. Right off the tree, the Clementine is a very fine flavored fruit.
Then comes the powerhouses of this Mandarin Era, newer selections, fast becoming popular based only on their exceptional flavor. Varieties such as:
- Kishu Seedless Mandarin: a bite-size fruit that peels with ease, ripens in November, and has a wonderfully sweet, juicy flavor will keep you eating them like candy.
- Pixie Mandarin: ripens early to mid-January, the flavor of the Pixie Mandarin cannot be overstated. The long harvest period is amazing, beginning in January one can be picking wonderful flavored Pixie’s into June - if they last that long. It’s upright growth habit make it a perfect choice for planting in tight spaces, espalier or container planting.
- Gold Nugget Mandarin: this variety leads the pack in flavor, and extended harvest! In many taste tests it has proven to be one of the highest rated of all the Mandarin varieties. Coming ripe in mid-February, it is not uncommon to be picking fruit as late as September. Upright in growth habit makes it a great choice for containers, tight plantings, and espaliers.
- Page Tangelo: although technically a Tangelo, the Page Mandarin is a Minneola Tangelo crossed with a Clementine Mandarin. The Page needs a mention because of its outstandingly rich flavor. Ripening in December the Page has dependable crops of medium size, is an easy to peel, deep orange fruit. If the Mandarin has a unique flavor of citrus, the Page Mandarin is quite possibly the most unique of all.
There it is, some varieties to think about for planting in your home garden. The Era of the Mandarin is on. Don’t miss out on another crop of delightful Mandarins to enjoy in your garden.