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Tahitian pummelo: growing this melon flavored citrus

Tahitian pummelo

(Citrus maxima ‘Tahitian’)

Tahitian pummelo in California

Tahitian pummelo tree with fruit

Tahitian pummelo tree overview:

The Tahitian pummelo tree produces humongous sized delicious fruit.

Huge Tahitian pummelo

The huge Tahitian pummelo fruit next to a quarter for size reference

Tahitian pummelo fruit appearance:

  • This is one huge citrus fruit.
  • The scientific name gives its size away (Citrus maxima).  Pomelo’s (as a group) are the largest of all citrus, in this case the Tahitian pummelo’s that I have grown are about 2-3x larger than a grapefruit.
  • The fruit skin of the Tahitian pummelo is deep-green when it is young and as it ripens the skin turns yellow.
  • The fruit peels rather easily and the individual segments are easily skinned.  After you get past all of the fibrous segmentation you will find the surprisingly pale-green and juicy flesh.
  • There are many seeds, but they are all clustered at the apex of the large segmentations.  In this exposed location, the seeds are easily removed.
The Tahitian pummelo is easy to peel

The Tahitian pummelo is easy to peel

Tahitian pummelo taste:

  • Oh my; the Tahitian pummelo is truly a delicious fruit.
  • Some have called it luscious, and I can’t argue with that.
  • The Tahitian pummelo is perfectly sweet with flavors that are distinctively citrus with a tasty mild melon flavor to it as well.  If you concentrate,  you will find tiny hint of that signature grapefruit flavor, but it is rather subtle.
  • Overall the Tahitian pummelo almost tastes like a sugar sweetened grapefruit, only much better and lighter.
  • It is really hard to stop eating it.
Tahitian pummelo seeds are easy to remove

Tahitian pummelo seeds at the segment apex

Tahitian pummelo flesh

The juicy green Tahitian pummelo flesh

 

Tahitian pummelo fruit season: 

  • I haven’t been able to find much information about when to pick the fruit, so I just waited…
  • I didn’t want to pick this prize too early so I was patient… The fruit got bigger, all of the green faded to yellow and I waited some more… and then I kind-of forgot about it for a while.
  • Then one day I noticed that one of the fruits just fell off the tree on its own.  As it turns out this fruit that I picked up and then devoured was delicious.  So I concluded that the tree would let me know when it was ready by letting go of the fruit.
  • This year, about 5 large fruits fell off my young tree from April to June.
  • However, I have read that in Florida, the fruits ripen from November to February.  This dramatic difference in season seems odd to me as I would expect the Florida and California seasons to be closer aligned. Perhaps I will have another fruiting season this Winter-Fall to match Florida.
  • This second crop may not be too far out of the realm of possibilities as the trees may flower up to 4x a year in tropical Asia and produce 4 crops a year there.
Tahitian pummelo ffruit

The Tahitian pummelo fruit falls off the tree when ready

Landscaping use: 

  • The tree has some distinctive character with with a crooked/bent trunk and branches.
  • The leaves are quite a bit larger than most other citrus trees.
  • The flowers are large to match the size of the fruit.  The flowers are also highly aromatic, so much so that in North Vietnam they are made into perfume.
  • From what I can tell, in California the Tahitian pummelo grows to be a smallish tree/large shrub.
Tahitian pummelo flowers smell awesome

Large Tahitian pummelo flowers in a cluster

Soil:

  • I have read that some people just plant citrus in the ground without much fanfare.  However, I have not had any previous luck with this Laissez-faire method of fruit tree planting.
  • Therefore, I did what has worked for me in the past;  I aggressively augmented the soil with grow mulch/compost, and inoculated with Micorriza.  Click here for the planting method that I have used with great success.
  • I also added in some peat moss to the soil because I figured that this may help to mimic the plants native-tropical soil.  I don’t know if this peat moss is necessary or even helpful, but the plant is doing very well at them moment.

 

Water:

  • I water most of my other citrus around 2-3x a week in the summer.
  • However, because of the trees tropical heritage, I have been erring on the side of wet.
  • I have planted a few ferns around the tree as a kind-of “canary in the coal mine” in hopes that the ferns will wilt and inform me of the need to water before the Tahitian pummelo gets too stressed.
  • I also planted the tree right next to a water fountain in a wind protected location thinking that there might be a tiny bit of localized increased humidity as a result.  Am I crazy?  Perhaps, but for whatever reason the tree looks very happy.
  • Regardless of your method, don’t let this tree dry out.
  • Covering the ground around the base of the tree with a good layer of wood mulch will help to retain moisture.

 

Sun:

  • The Tahitian pummelo seems to prefer full sun.
  • However, I have read that in Asia, palm trees are planted to shade the young citrus trees but are removed at the end of 3-5y to allow full sun exposure.
  • That being said, I planted the Tahitian pummelo that I have in full sun from the start even though the tree was likely younger than 3y when I planted it.  The tree has been doing very well in full (coastal influenced) California sun from the beginning.

 

Fertilization: 

  • I haven’t found much information about fertilizing the Tahitian pummelo.
  • Ok, that is not entirely true;  in Asia “night soil” is commonly used as a fertilizer.
    • What is “night soil” you ask?  Well I didn’t know either until I looked it up.  As it turns out, “night soil” is people poo.  Since crapping on my plants is not an option for me I had to look elsewhere.
    • In Asia, the burnt husks of rice plants are also spread around the base of the plants to allow it to seep into the soil.   Since I don’t have access to rice husks I was kind-of on my own.
  • Therefore, I have been fertilizing the Tahitian pummelo the same way I do the rest of my citrus and go figure… it seems happy.
  • I have also read that Pummelo trees may need nutritional sprays to correct zinc, manganese or boron deficiencies.  Because, I have not had a lot of personal success with nutritional sprays I have been adding these micro-nutrients directly into the soil in the form of citrus specific fertilizer.

 

Temp:  

  • This is a tropical plant.  Therefore, I suspect it is rather frost sensitive, although I don’t know that for sure.  To be safe, keep the tree out of low areas in your yard where cool air can collect.
  • For more information about the lowest temperatures that you can expect in your area, check out my article “Climate Zones: What can I grow in my yard?”

 

Pests: 

  • The major pest for all of my citrus is the Citrus Leafminer. Click here to see my post about the diagnosis and treatment of Citrus Leafminer. 
  • However, I recently also discovered a mealybug infestation on a few branches of this Tahitian Pummelo.  I quickly cured the tree of these sap suckers with a thorough blast of water, followed by horticulture oil spray and then Tanglefoot around the trunk (see Tanglefoot discussion below).
  • I also suspect that the Tahitian pummelo is venerable to the rest of the usual citrus attacking suspects (aphids, scale etc).
  • One of the most important things to do is to keep the ants out of the tree which often bring aphids, scale and mealybugs with them.  A great way to do this is to use Tanglefoot.  However, don’t apply Tanglefoot directly to the bark because the thin bark of citrus can be easily damaged this way.  Create a skirt of masking tape around the trunk of the tree (with the sticky-side out) or buy the Tanglefoot guard paper wrap.  Then add the Tanglefoot on that skirt/paper.
  • Phytophthora root rot seems to be a big issue in Asia.
Citrus eating Grasshopper

Citrus eating Grasshopper

  • Update (7/29/13): I noticed a grasshoppers munching on a leaf of this tree a few days ago. I tried to usher it elsewhere, however, this brave (or dumb) little guy don’t seem to care much if I poked him.  Eventually he hopped just where I didn’t want him to go; deep in the tree.  The funny thing is that when I came back the next day, he was in the exact same spot as when I first saw him.  He crawled back to the exact same leaf he was munching on before.  It seems that when they find a spot they like they come back to it.  Anyhow, I easily caught the bugger today (with a glass container) and sent him on his way.
Citrus eating grasshopper caught.

Citrus eating grasshopper caught. You can almost hear him saying in a tiny voice, “help!”

Fruit Use:

  • It is hard to imagine what else you would do with a Tahitian pummelo other than eat it fresh right out of your hand.
  • Although the fruit is huge, I find myself completely devouring it before I can even think of other options for it.
  • I am sure that Tahitian pummelo fruit would be good in salads or just about anything you would use other citrus for… but why bother.
  • In Asia, the fruit is made into preserves, the juice is made into beverages and the peel is candied.

 

Misc:

  • The pummelo is the principal ancestor of the grapefruit.  However, in my strong opinion, grapefruits are not an improvement on this parent tree.
  • The pummelo is native to southeastern Asia and all of Malaysia. It was introduced into China around 100 B.C.
  • Flowers, leaves and sap from the tree are used in many folk remedies throughout Asia to treat illnesses ranging from epilepsy to ulcers.
  • Pummelo AKA: Pomelo, Sarawak pomelo, Pamplemousse Tahiti, Pamplemousse Sarawak, limau abong, limau betawi, limau bali, limau besar, limau bol, limau jambua, Bali lemon, Tahitian grapefruit.

 

 

 

About Thomas Osborne, MD

Dr. Osborne is a Harvard trained Radiologist and Neuroradiologist who loves to share his insight about medicine and gardening.

10 comments

  1. I’ve been looking for a Tahitian Pumelo tree ever since we honeymooned on Moorea many years ago. I can’t find a single grower in Southern California.

    any help would be appreciated! I’d love to grow one in San Diego.

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hey Brian
      They are awesome fruit.
      I was lucky enough to have my generous neighbor get the tree for me. It was a surprise.
      I just asked her where she got the plant and she said; Walter Andersen (Poway store). If they don’t have it in stock, they usually can order it for you.

      http://www.walterandersen.com/locations/

      Good luck,
      Tom

    • Try Costco. I am getting one tomorrow. It sells for $65 15 gal container. Call Costco first.

    • Last year I bought a 15 gallon Tahitian pomelo from Costco in Riverside, CA. I harvested 7 fruits the first year I planted the tree in the ground. I have about 12 fruits now. They are not large as described in this blog. The size is about the size of an orange.

  2. Good info.
    BTW: AZ Costco has these, listed on trunks as grapefruit. They are W&N, look healthy. Not sure about CA.

    Thanks,

  3. I’d like to buy a pummelo tree & live in So Calif., but can’t find a nursery or other source in the Southern part of the state. Anybody have suggestions?

    • Thomas Osborne, MD

      Hi Mr. Davalos

      I would check out:

      Clausen Nursery (See link below: I did an article on them a while back)

      Or
      Walter Andersen Nursery.

      Perhaps someone else has additional ideas to explore.

      Best,
      Tom

  4. try Costco at Corona, CA. Call any Costco near you.

  5. I found the Tahiti an Pomelo grapefruit tree in Tucson, AZ at Mequite Valley Growers, a wonderful Nursery. Nice tree in bloom for $39.00.

  6. We have been looking up and down for this tree after reading your article.

    We tried to special order from different locations of Costco, Walter Anderson, Clausen and Armstrong with no luck. Exotica has it but it is seedling which will take 5-10 years…

    Can you direct us to a website or person we can mail order one?

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