Limes are aromatic citrus fruits most commonly used to flavor food and beverages; the zest and rind make excellent garnishes.
Unlike many other fruits, limes are not usually eaten raw; due to their high acidity. However, not all limes taste the same or add the same flavor notes to recipes.
The type of lime tree and the climate of the region they're grown in creates the difference between lime varieties.
Limes were originally grown in Malaysia and bore fruit slightly smaller than a lemon and with a less acidic taste.
Nowadays, they grow in many parts of the world where temperatures and humidity are high. Lime trees are susceptible to the cold and will fail to fruit if exposed to such conditions.
Types of Lime Trees
There are four types of lime trees, each recognized by their size and shape; and by the textures and taste of the fruit that they bear.
This article discusses the purpose and merits of each – Key, Tahiti, Thai, and Rangpur lime tree.
Key Lime – Citrus Auranti Folia (Rutaceae family)
Otherwise known as the West Indian or Mexican lime, the latter of which is a tri-hybrid of three citron plant species.
The tree – Moderately-sized, bushy tree with spindly, thorny branches. The tree forms a dome-like canopy and has smooth, dark brown bark. The leaves are oval and dark-green in color; they look akin to those of the orange tree.
Flowers – The tree blossoms in the spring and produces small white flowers with a purple tinge at the edge. They grow in clusters and radiate an intense fragrance.
Fruits – Key limes are similar to the size and shape of a golf ball. Their skin is textured and greenish-yellow, fading to yellow as they ripen.
They are highly acidic fruits, in fact, the most-acidic of all limes and most lemons.
The Most Common Uses for Key Limes
- Food flavoring, most notably meat, chicken, and fish marinades
- Key lime pie, a favorite dessert
- Garnishes for drinks, both soft and alcoholic
- Key lime water aids weight loss and gastric issues by aiding digestion.
Where Key Lime Trees Grow
Like all types of lime trees, the Key lime thrives in warm tropical and sub-tropical climates.
Found in Mexico, Florida, and California (zones 9-11, DOA), they grow in most well-drained soils with a pH level between 6.1 and 7.8.
As long as they're well-protected from the elements, enjoy good air circulation, and bask in at least 10-hours of full sun each day, they will bear fruit.
Key lime trees also grow in Egypt, India, and the West Indies.
Tahiti – Citrus Latifolia
Otherwise known as the Persian lime, the fruit of the Tahiti lime is another tri-hybrid thought to be a cross between the Mexican lime, a pummelo, and another micro-citrus species.
The Tree – Densely packed evergreen trees that grow up to 20ft tall. They have no thorns on their large, rounded branches. The leaves are deep green, long, broad, and oval.
Flowers – Small white flowers with long stamens bloom in the spring. They tend to grow in groups, gathered around the base of the leaves.
Fruits – A Persian lime looks similar to lemon when it is fully-ripe; in size and color. The vivid green hue will have faded to yellow, the skin is thick and textured, just as you would expect to see on a lemon.
They are seedless and juicier than the average key lime.
The Most Common Uses for Tahitian Limes
- Fresh, canned, frozen juice concentrate
- The zest makes a delicious marinade for chicken, meat, or fish dishes
- Garnish for meals and drinks
Where Tahiti Lime Trees Grow
More than 90% of limes grown in America are done so in Florida. They require a tropical or subtropical climate and well-drained soil.
Although they can withstand colder temperatures than Key limes, anything below 28°F has a detrimental effect on fruit production, and below 24°F will kill Tahiti lime trees.
Mexico is renowned for mass-producing high-quality Persian limes for import. They also grow successfully in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Brazil, Cuba, Egypt, and Israel.
Thai Lime – Citrus Hystrix
Also known as the Kaffir or the Makrut lime, the only tree that thrives in a pot and grown indoors.
The tree – In the wild, the Thai lime tree might grow anywhere between 6-35ft tall. The home-cultivated dwarf bush with which we are most familiar thrives in sunny garden environments, conservatories, and window ledges.
Their thorny branches droop as they grow and become loaded with distinctively shaped leaves. Known as hourglass leaves, each one looks like two stuck together. The top of each is glossy and dark green; the underside is dull. They store more than 80% of their aroma in the leaves.
Flowers – The tree blossoms in spring. Each flower is small and tinged with soft pink at its edges. They grow in clusters on a stem.
Fruits – Kaffir limes are instantly recognizable by their lumpy, knobbly surface. They are around 4cm wide, round, and darker green than other limes.
They emit an intense citrus aroma from their thick oily rind and have very little juice.
Most Common Uses for Thai Limes
- Southeast Asian cuisine relies heavily on the strong citrus notes provided from the leaf and rind, fresh or dried
- The lime provides essential oils used in perfume
Where Thai Lime Trees Grow
Thai lime trees grow worldwide, in container gardens, greenhouses, on terraces, and conservatories. They thrive outdoors in warm climates, (zone 10-12) but are at their best indoors.
They prefer well-drained soil, high humidity, and good air circulation. If you meet these criteria, the ward is a multitude of fruit to enhance any recipe.
They also grow in southeast Asian countries, South China, Egypt, and thrive in Florida and California.
Rangpur Lime – Citrus X Limonia
Also known as Mandarin Lime or lemanderin, due to its many similarities with the small orange fruit. It is a hybrid of citron and the mandarin tree, leading some people to refute its title as a lime.
The tree – When mature, the Rangpur lime tree grows between 12 and 14ft and measures 8-10ft wide. The narrow, thorny branches droop as they grow and features oval-shaped rich green leaves tinged with purple.
Flowers – Purple buds lead to multiple small white flowers in the spring. Occasionally, the Rangpur lime flowers for a second time in the spring.
Fruits – The fruit is round in shape and a similar size to a lemon. Their surface is green initially but turns orange as it ripens (unless it is in a tropical climate where it remains green).
The rind separates easily from the flesh which makes them easy to peel. Inside, the fruit is orangey-red, extremely juicy, and home to just a few small seeds.
The mandarin lime has the sweetest taste of all the limes, although has a bitter aftertaste when swallowed.
Most Common Uses for the Rangpur Lime
- Eaten fresh as a snack
- Used in cocktails -complements gin
- Makes simple syrups used in the production of jams and curds
- Marinating pork, chicken, and fish recipes
- The zest and peel make ideal garnishes for multiple cuisines
Where Rangpur Lime Trees Grow
It is the hardiest species of all lime trees and successfully withstands temperatures as low as 16°F.
They grow well in volcanic, well-drained soils; and also thrive in high elevations.
The Rangpur lime is grown commercially in Costa Rica. The fruit is known by a different name in each of the places it grows, enabling simple origin-tracking:
- India = Rangpur lime
- USA = Mandarin Lime
- South China = Canton lemon
- Brazil = Cravo lemon
- Japan = Hime lemon
It is possible to grow potted dwarf Rangpur lime trees. They prefer partial to full sunlight and will bear fruit annually, fruiting from November until the end of January.
Growing Different Types of Lime Trees
If you're considering planting lime trees, refer to the USDA zone map to ascertain the suitability of your local climate.
The code allocated to each region is based on the average annual extreme lowest temperature.
Make allowances for the possibility of a micro-climate in your yard; this may affect the growing zone for plant hardiness.
Growing potted dwarf lime trees, especially indoor varieties, isn't as reliant on climate.
Place them somewhere that receives plenty of natural sunlight, with good air circulation, and reap the benefits of home-grown, fresh limes.