Are Lemons Man Made?

Did life give us lemons? Or did we make them ourselves? The citrus family has an elaborate taxonomy, much of which precedes historical documentation.

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So it’s difficult to say when, where, or how the first lemon trees appeared.  Let’s examine the evidence and scientific speculation to determine if lemons are man-made.

 A Hybrid Gone Sour

The lemons we know and love today evolved through natural and human-facilitated cross-breeding over many centuries.

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In the 18th century, Swedish botanist Carolus Linneaus classified the lemon as a variety of citron.  However, scientists now know that the lemon, or Citrus limon, is a hybrid of the citron and the bitter orange.

One of the original citrus fruits, the citron looks like a larger and more rugged lemon.  It has a thick rind with ridged, bright yellow skin. Although fragrant, the citron produces little juice.

Archeologists rely on fossil records to date the origins of fruit. Unfortunately, limited fossil records exist for citrus fruits.  But a fossilized citrus leaf discovered in southwestern China dates to eight million years ago.

Scientists have also traced the origins of citrus fruits.  Using DNA evidence, they have placed the original citrus trees in the southern foothills of the Himalayas.

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