Australian citrus production began in 1787 when the English First Fleet set sail under instructions to introduce plants and seeds for sustainable horticulture. Lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruit and mandarins were planted in and around Sydney and formed the basis of today’s national industry.

The early settlers found Australia’s diverse climate ideal to produce a large range of quality citrus. In the southern growing regions, hot, dry summers and cool winter rains encourage excellent orange fruit growth and exceptional colour. In contrast, the combination of summer heat and humidity, and dry winters in the northern growing regions of the country are ideal for producing superior mandarins.

Today, over 28,000 hectares of citrus are planted by around 1,900 growers. The major production regions are in the Riverland, South Australia; Murray Valley, Victoria and New South Wales; Riverina, New South Wales and the Central Burnett region in Queensland. There are also additional plantings throughout Western Australia, inland and coastal New South Wales, regions in Queensland, as well as smaller plantings in the Northern Territory.

Typically post “off season” citrus growth means increased prices and eventually decreased quality at the consumer end. As stores of fruit are slowly run down and new fruit is introduced to cater for an “all year” demand on availability. For example, spikes in lime prices generally begins around October and continues through December-January as the new fruit starts to hit the market. A good time to look for alternate citrus and offer farmers a reason to invest in alternate fruits.

native finger lime.

Wild finger limes are genetically very diverse, with trees and fruit varying in size, shape and seediness, with the largest palette of colours of any fruit. Skin colour can range from yellow-green to crimson, purple, and black, and the colour of the fruit inside also varies. Pulp colours of green, yellow, red and pink have all been recorded.

Finger lime grows naturally in sub-tropical rainforest along the border of south-east Queensland and New South Wales, and is one of the traditional foods of Aboriginal communities in these regions. Due to land clearing by European settlement for farming, much of this rare fruit was destroyed, however isolated pockets of sub-tropical rainforest on private land and National Parks still remain with some Finger lime trees surviving.

Today, there is virtually no wild harvest. Commercial plantings occur predominately in the species’ natural reach, although there are a few plantings along the coast. The industry is growing, but remains small.

Depending on climatic conditions and cultivar, fruit mature between December and May, with the main harvest period occurring between March and May.  Fruit are selectively picked every 10–14 days over a  6–8 week period depending on tree age and cultivar.

Fruit is selectively picked by hand as finger lime is very delicate and susceptible to skin damage. Around 50 per cent of the harvest ends up as second grade or processing fruit.
Fruit needs to be ripe when picked, as it does not ripen off the tree, cannot be picked when wet and the field heat needs to be removed as soon as possible.

Described as having a refreshing citrus, lime flavour, it is often used in dressings, jams and sauces, cordials and cocktails and can substitute wherever ordinary lemon or lime is used. Aroma of fresh citrus with some cooked notes. Taste is citrus, tart with some astringency and bitterness. The red Finger lime’s aroma also has slight fermented notes.

lime varieties bred from native Australian limes

CSIRO Plant Industry and Australian Native Produce Industries, a company that grows and sells Australian native food, have developed plantations of new lime varieties bred from native limes.

The new varieties include the Blood Lime, a cross between a Mandarin and a Finger Lime and characterised by its blood red rind, flesh and juice; the Sunrise Lime, a cross between a Finger Lime and Calamondin (Mandarin crossed with Cumquat).  producing an elegant pear-shaped golden fruit that is juicy and sharp in flavour. The fruit can be eaten whole as the skin and pith is sweet; and the Outback Lime, a cultivar of the Desert Lime with small green, juicy fruits which ripen at Christmas time.


Leave a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: