Sorry, no pretty pictures on this page!
page updated 27Oct2001
Anyone with more than a passing interest in citrus will soon find themselves confused by the names of different fruit and the trees from which they come. How many shoppers at the supermarket know why some fruit are labelled Satsumas or Clementines or Tangerines or Mandarins?
The reason for all this confusion and multiple naming is that no-one can reliably sort out the origins of citrus. They have been cultivated and selected for so long, in many different parts of the world, that the original forms are lost. There are very few truly 'wild' varieties and these are invariably far different from cultivated forms. To add to the confusion, citrus hybridises readily, so new crosses, both man-made and natural, appear readily.
There have been numerous attempts to classify all varieties, but the two most notable - about 100 years ago - were by the American researcher Swingle and the Japanese Tanaka. Now Swingle and Tanaka have memorably been described as the 'lumper' and the 'splitter' of citrus species. So Swingle 'lumped' many similar types together and gave them one species name, whereas Tanaka looked at every slight variation and 'split' them into differently named species. For instance, there are 36 Tanaka species, ranging from C. Amblycarpa to C.Yuko, that Swingle calls Citrus Reticulata. Yet today some researchers believe all other citrus are hybrids of just three original types! So who's right? No-one knows - maybe genetic studies will make the final decision.
Back to the Satsuma/Clementine/Tangerine/Mandarin problem. I think the best term is Mandarin, although in the USA, Tangerine - originally applied to the Dancy variety - is widely used. In James Saunt's book 'Citrus Varieties of the World' he follows the classification:-
Citrus Unshiu Satsuma Mandarin
Citrus Deliciosa Mediterranean Mandarin
Citrus Nobilis King Mandarin
Citrus Reticulata Common Mandarin - of which most varieties are Clementines.
Still confused? I'm not surprised. Have a look at Mandarin Names, then try reading some of the books listed on my books page, study the wealth of information at the MULTILINGUAL MULTISCRIPT PLANT NAME DATABASE Sorting Citrus Names web-site, or better still grow some varieties and taste the fruit. You'll still be confused at the end of all that but you can learn a lot and have some fun on the way!