How to Tell a Lemon From a Lime Tree
Lemons and limes may both be sour--though sweet variations do exist, they're relatively uncommon in North American gardens--but they are completely different fruit. If you are growing both types of citrus in your yard, you may forget which tree is which, especially when the trees are not bearing fruit. A few investigative strategies can help you compare the two to find the difference between a lemon tree and a lime tree.
Break off a leaf from the tree and rip it in half. Sniff the torn pieces. You will notice a lime-like smell on leaves from a lime tree, while lemon leaves have a mild or indistinguishable citrus smell.
Look at the tree's fruit. Even before they turn their trademark yellow, unripe lemon fruit are often more pointed in shape than lime fruit.
Examine the tree's flowers. If you see flowers with a purplish tint in their centers or edges, it's a lemon tree. Lime flowers are mostly white.
Compare tree and leaf sizes, though this can be an unreliable indicator because mutations or hybrid species can break from tradition. Typically, lemon trees grow taller--15 to 25 feet in height--than lime trees, which often max out at 12 to 15 feet. In addition, the leaves of a lemon often grow bigger, at four to five inches compared to a lime tree's two to three inch leaves.
Lemon From A Lime Tree
Citrus trees’ characteristic dark, shiny leaves make them easy to identify from other types of fruiting and nonfruiting trees, but it can be difficult to tell the difference between various types of citrus trees. Lemon and lime trees are particularly tricky to identify as their fruit and blossoms can look very similar, especially when they aren’t fully ripe. Ripe lemons generally have a ridged or bumpy surface. Lemon trees’ leaves tend to be oblong, elliptical and can grow up to 5 inches long. While both lemon and lime blossoms have the same scent, the lemon tree flowers’ scent is generally stronger. Remove a leaf, crush it and smell the leaf’s oils. The lemon tree’s leaves will have a strong lemon odor, while the lime leaves will smell like lime. Remove a piece of fruit and cut it in half. Smell the fruit and examine the peel.
Be careful when handling citrus fruits, as the juices from the fruit can irritate your eyes and skin.
- "Growing Citrus: The Essential Gardener's Guide"; Martin Page; 2008
- "The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees of the World"; Catherine Cutler, et al.; 2007
- Texas A&M: Home Fruit Production – Lemons
- Texas A&M: Home Fruit Production – Limes
- Purdue University Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: Lemon
- Purdue University Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: Mexican Lime
- Purdue University Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture: Citron