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Citrus nobilis, the tangerine, mandarin or mandarin orange (including the ‘Clementine’ or clementine mandarin), or satsuma, is a cold-intolerant small fruit tree in the Rutaceae (citrus family) that originated in southwestern China or northeastern India. Referred to in many classifications as C. reticulata, it is now grown in tropical and semi-tropical areas around the world for its sweet, juicy, and easy-to-peel fruits. The tangerine tree is among the most drought- and frost-tolerant of citrus trees, although developing fruits can be severely damaged by cold.

Common names among this type of citrus fruit can be confusing, as numerous cultivars and hybrids have been developed, and similar common names may be applied to those as well as to related species (including the Mediterranean mandarin, C. deliciosa, the king mandarin—previously the common name for C. nobilis--and the satsuma mandarin, C. unshiu, among others). Hybrids include the tangor and tangelo (C. reticulata X C. sinensis), of which the minneola is a popular variety; and the large Jamaican “Ugli” or ugli fruit (a cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit, C. reticulata X C. paradisi--which is itself a hybrid between the pomelo, C. maxima, and the sweet orange, C. sinensis).

Tangerine trees are small—generally smaller than sweet orange trees, although some cultivars may reach a maximum height of 7.5 m (25 ft)-- with slender, spiny twigs. Leaves are lanceolate (lance-shaped), up to 3 cm (1.25 in) long, with narrow wings on the petioles (leaf stems). The white aromatic flowers, which grow singly or in clusters of 2 or 3, develop into small oblate (flattened spherical) fruits roughly 7.5 cm (3 in) in diameter that ripen to light or deep orange. The sweet, juicy pulp is divided into 10 to 14 segments that separate easily from each other and from the thin skin or peel.

Tangerines and mandarins, which are high in vitamins A and C as well as calcium and potassium, are generally eaten as a fresh fruit, but may also be processed into juice and used in beverages and cocktails. The fruit is sometimes used for jams or marmalades, and in cooking. The peel (or whole fruit) may be used to flavor liquers and candies.

Total commercial production of tangerines of various varieties (including mandarins and clementines) was 21.3 million metric tons (mt), harvested from 2.0 million hectares. China alone produced nearly half the global total (10.1 million mt), although the crop is considered quite important in Spain (the second leading producer, with 1.7 million mt). Other leading producers include Brazil and Turkey. Tangerines are the second most widely cultivated citrus fruit (after sweet oranges, C. sinensis).

(Bailey et al. 1976, FAOSTAT 2012, Flora of China 2012, Morton 1987, van Wyk 2005.)


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