Lemon trees (Citrus limon) are evergreens that bear bright yellow fruit. Around the world people value this tree's fruit for culinary purposes, particularly cooking and baking. In Italy, lemon trees feature heavily in classical-styled gardens, where the beautiful green leaves make a beautiful backdrop for other plants and flowers. Throughout Italy the trees grow upward of 20 feet tall and blossom with reddish buds that are white on the inside.
Tradition has it that lemons come from India, China and Southeast Asia. The trees came into Europe through southern Italy around the first century A.D. People didn't cultivate the tree in Italy until the 15th century in Genoa. From there, cultivation spread to Spain, and then to America with Christopher Columbus in 1493.
Art in Pompeii dating to 79 A.D. features lemons. Additionally, ancient Italian mosaics from Frascati illustrate lemon trees. The popularity of lemon as an art subject never waned. Everywhere you travel in Italy, images of the lemon tree or its fruit remain in paintings, pottery and porcelain. It also appears in highly revered Italian writings like "The Lemon Trees" by Eugenio Montale (1896 to 1981).
Various type of Italian lemon trees exist. The Genoa lemon is particularly hardy and able to grow in cooler northern areas of Italy. One of the most ancient varieties called Femminello Ovale bears juicy fruits and by far dominates the Italian market. Two other varieties, the Eureka lemon and Bearss lemon both originated in Italy but have since been cultivated commercially in Israel and Florida respectively.
People cultivate Monachello lemons in areas where mal secco disease exists because it's very resistant. You can also find Interdonato lemons in Italy that yield early in the season.
The Italian gardener needs to check the soil for nitrogen, as lemon trees require nitrogen for producing fruit. Chicken manure is one organic feed option high in nitrates. The tree thrives in direct sunlight. To get the most fruit, old stems require light pruning, while younger ones remain for fruit production. Doing this keeps the tree a suitable size for the traditional-looking Italian garden.
Throughout Italy, the fruit from lemon trees appears in culinary endeavors. In Rome, for example, you'll find street vendors selling lemon gelato and ice on nearly every corner. Other recipes featuring lemons include limoncello liqueur, biscotti al limone and risotto al limone.
Italian lemon trees provide a variety of products other than just lemons. Oil from leaves, immature fruits and twigs goes into perfume and cologne, and craftspeople use the wood to carve spoons and other items.