The WALA Plant Library
Bitter Orange

Synonyms for Bitter Orange: Bigarade orange, marmalade orange, Seville orange, sour orange
Scientific Name: Citrus aurantium amara L.
Family: Rutaceae


Everyone is familiar with the sweet oranges without which no fruit stall is complete. But probably few people realise that this fruit is a sweet variety of the bitter orange which was already being imported to Italy from China in the 11th century, much earlier than its sweeter sister, which only arrived in Europe in the 15th century.
The evergreen bitter orange tree bears dark-green, leathery leaves and, on its young branches, thin, flexible thorns which can be up to eight centimetres long. The tree can reach a height of up to eight metres. Its white, five-petalled flowers give off an intense fragrance. Unusually, not all flowers have the female pistil (consisting of ovary, style and stigma) as well as the male stamens: some flowers have only male stamens.
The fruit of the bitter orange is very similar to the sweet orange, but is smaller, with a diameter of only seven to eight centimetres. The sphere is slightly flattened and the skin is thicker and more dimpled than that of the sweet orange. The fruit flesh tastes sour, while the peel and the skin surrounding the fruit segments have a strong bitter taste. Around the Mediterranean the ripe bitter oranges are harvested in January and February.