May 30, 2020

The Fruits of a Lemonlike Lemon

The Ponderosa lemon in its heyday

Janine Pineo Photo | The Ponderosa lemon in its heyday

• By Janine Pineo •

And then one day, the lemonlike lemon was picked and turned into lemonlike-ade.

Janine Pineo Photo | And then one day, the lemonlike lemon was picked and turned into lemonlike-ade.

Pip, pip, hooray!

Perhaps I am premature in my enthusiasm, for I won’t know whether I have pips unless I get a surprise visit from Gladys Knight and company before my lemon matures.

Yes, my lemon is pregnant.

Needless to say, I am a bit surprised.

I bought my lemon last year from Logee’s in Connecticut, the same place I purchased my winter-hardy banana plant a year before. I also purchased two dwarf papyrus plants, but that is a story for another day.

The lemon came in a 2 1/2-inch pot and was maybe 8 inches tall when it arrived. I had chosen Citrus limon ‘Ponderosa,’ which caught my attention with its moniker “The American Wonder Lemon.”

Plus, I always wanted to live on the Ponderosa Ranch with Hoss and Little Joe.

I’m sure it didn’t have anything to do with the fact that the fruit can reach the enormous proportions of 5 pounds.

As in each.


Logee’s, which has been in business since 1892, has a 103-year-old Ponderosa lemon tree gracing one of its greenhouses, where it produces “lemons the size of grapefruit.”

So it really is no wonder I bought it.

I found a little ceramic pot for my wee lemon because it is supposed to grow no more than 3 feet tall in a container.

Yes, it sounded disproportionate to me, too: a 3-foot-tall tree with 5-pound fruit.

You can see why I had to buy it.

So I repotted the tree and brought it to live on my office windowsill.

That was that, until November rolled around and some weird-looking protuberances appeared at the end of the main “trunk.”

As they developed, I guessed they were buds. And they were, blossoming beautifully in December. Which is when I noticed the next set farther down the trunk.

And then another set at the base of the trunk.

I managed to knock off almost all of the blossoms in the first cluster. Not on purpose, mind you, but because I thought I might help nature along and try to pollinate the blooms.

Silly me.

It led my friend Ginny, who pampers my office plants daily, to tell me to keep my hands off the lemon.

Which is why we now have a baby lemon growing where the second cluster of flowers appeared.

Like any good godparent, I decided to read up on it and be prepared for any lemon pregnancy contingencies.

It turns out that lemons have a shockingly murky past. Their origins are unknown, although most references state that India is the likely home of the true lemon.

True lemon?

Yes, it seems that most lemons aren’t; they are crosses between lemons and another citrus fruit. Wikipedia states that even lemons aren’t lemons and somehow came to be from a cross between wild citrus species, the citron and mandarin. Technically, lemons should be identified as Citrus X limon, showing it’s a cross.

Like I said, it’s murky.

As for my lemon, it isn’t really and is described by Purdue University’s horticulture Web site,, as “lemonlike” and “a chance seedling.” Its parentage is murky, too, but it may be a lemon-citron cross, which seems to me to be like marrying your cousin.

This interbreeding all happened about 1886 or 1887 in Hagerstown, Md., under the auspices of one George Bowman. By 1900, Ponderosa appeared in nursery catalogs, and soon thereafter, one was growing at Logee’s in Connecticut.

So after a journey around the world – from India to a mention in the 10th century Arabic treatise on farming by Qustus al-Rumi to the Mediterranean to China to Hispaniola by way of Christopher Columbus in 1493 to California in the mid-1700s to Maryland and then to Connecticut – I have my very own lemonlike lemon tree, all 18 inches of it.

What will become of my lemonlike baby is hard to predict, for there are so many options: garnish, iced tea, lemonade, pie, candied peel, furniture polish, stain remover, freckle bleacher, cold remedy and so on.

How long it will take until harvest is also hard to predict. Everything I’ve read makes me think it could be October or November before I pick my lemonlike lemon.

Only then will I be able to see how many pips it has.

Pips, by the way, are lemon seeds, and mine could have between 30 and 40 of them.

Take that, Gladys Knight.

Even if mine are only piplike.

First published in the Bangor Daily News in February 2007.