These white fleshed 'Ora Blanca' fruit sections are ready to be enjoyed.
If you know what a grapefruit is, you're half way to knowing the pummelo. The grapefruit (Citrus X paradisi) is a hybrid species that was created by crossing a sweet orange (C. sinensis) with a pummelo. Like the fruit of the grapefruit, the pummelo fruit is large and has a yellow rind. It tastes like a grapefruit, only sweet instead of sour, and not quite as juicy. The flesh may be white, yellowish or pink. The pummelo rind is much thicker than a grapefruit's, and the fruit is larger, averaging 6-9 in (15-22 cm) and even up to 12 in (30 cm) in diameter. Fruits average around 2-4 lbs (1-2 kg), and some can weigh as much as 20 lbs (9 kg)! The tree has a rounded crown and can reach 15-20 ft (4.5-6 m) in height. The evergreen leaves tend to be a little larger (4-8 in; 10-20 cm) than those of the grapefruit and the orange. The white blossoms are as fragrant as any citrus and just as popular with the honeybees. The most popular cultivar in the U.S. is 'Chandler', which has pink flesh. 'Ora Blanca' is a hybrid (technically, a "backcross") between the grapefruit and the pummelo, and has white flesh. It may be more cold hardy than some other varieites.
Pummelo trees bear fruit while still quite small.
The pummelo is native to Polynesia and the Malay Peninsula. It is a very popular food in southern China, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries. In the U.S., pummelo is grown primarily as an ornamental or novelty.
Culture Light: Best production occurs in full sun, but most citrus varieties can tolerate partial shade, especially the thin shade from tall trees. Moisture: Like other citrus species, pummelo needs at least 40-45 in (100 - 112 cm) of water per year. Additional irrigation during the period of flowering and fruit development will improve production. Hardiness: USDA Zones 9-10. Pummelos can tolerate temperatures a little below freezing, but will probably be killed if the temperature falls below 22º F (-6º C) for more than a few hours. They are currently being grown in Zone 8B, with protection during the coldest spells. Propagation: Like most citrus species and cultivars, the seeds of pummelo will come true (i.e., produce plants exactly like the mother tree). However, also like most citrus, pummelos are usually grafted onto rootstocks chosen for specific features, such as disease resistance, cold tolerance, or soil type. The rootstocks used are usually 2-3 year old seedlings and the scion (the top part that is grafted onto the rootstock) usually produces fruit within just 2 or 3 years after grafting. Plants grown from seed on their on roots may take 5-7 years to fruit. In Florida, pummelos are often grafted onto trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) seedlings which provide increased cold hardiness and improved growth in sandy soils.
Young pummelo trees awaiting sale at the nursery.
In just a couple of years small nursery trees like the above will begin bearing.
The pummelo fruit is a little less juicy than a grapefruit, but very tasty, and only slightly acidic. It is a very popular fruit in Southeast Asia. The peel is candied, used in cooking, and sometimes made into marmalade. With a grapefruit, you can cut the fruit in half and spoon out the sections; this just doesn't work with a pummelo. The best way to get at the edible part is to score the thick rind into quarters with a knife, then peel the rind away to expose the sections. You will still have to remove seeds and the "connective tissue" around the sections. Our friend Candy reports that in Thailand you can buy a package of 5-6 completely cleaned sections for less than a dollar. She has observed groups of people in the evening cleaning and packaging the fruits for sale the next day. Pummelo is the source of the sweetener known as bitter narinjin, used in candies and drinks, and, notably, in the NASA-inspired breakfast drink, Tang™.
The pummelo fruit is the largest in the citrus family. The tree makes an interesting landscape element, and is sure to attract attention when in fruit. In addition to being a parent of the grapefruit, the pummelo is a grandparent of the tangelo (C. X tangelo), which is a cross between the mandarin (C. reticulata) and the grapefruit.