Mandarin vs Orange Trees: What's the Difference?
Mandarin vs Orange Trees: What's the Difference?
Citrus groves are synonymous with the sweet heat of sunny SoCal. In fact, the aptly named Orange County is an ode to the fruit’s impact on the region’s development. If you’ve never tasted the juicy heart of an orange or mandarin, one bite will convince you to add these cheerful fruits to your home garden.
Although you may think that the two fruits—oranges and mandarins—are interchangeable, they’re actually two distinct varieties of citrus fruit with different (read: delectable) stand-out characteristics.
So, when you’re deciding what type of citrus tree to plant, how do you choose between the petite powerhouse of a mandarin vs orange trees and their classic, sweet flavors?
Let’s peel back the layers of these two delightful treats.
All About Orange Trees
Both a citrus tree type and one of the colors of the rainbow, oranges (or Citrus sinensis) are known for their large, round look and flavorful slices. With stunning greenery, fragrant flowers, and a sweet taste, orange trees make a sunny splash in any landscape or garden container.
Orange Tree Origins
While the Sunshine State of Florida might have a monopoly on orange juice production, California can lay claim to the pedigree of the Navel orange as we know it today. Oranges trace their origins to the Brazilian citrus industry, where oranges were introduced by the Portuguese in the late 16th century and hybridized.
Starting as a mutation, the seedless and sweet navel orange was a sport brought back to the United States by a missionary. Two cuttings of the unusual belly-buttoned cultivar were planted by Eliza Tibbets in Riverside at the end of the 19th century, which was the starting point for the massive California citrus industry in operation today.
Nod to the fruit’s importance can be found in named streets and counties scattered across the state, and even a state historic park that preserves the important legacy of oranges in California.
Orange Tree Appearance
Orange trees provide a lovely green canopy filled with fresh citrus scents and bold colors, reaching heights of up to 30 feet in maturity. The stunning fruits aren’t the only standout when it comes to this stately tree—the scented orange blossoms provide delicate elegance to the tree when its white blooms appear in early spring, filling the surrounding air with fragrance.
Common Types Of Orange Trees
While there are many varieties of orange trees out there, here are a few of the most common types used in home landscaping due to their ease of care and fruit quality:
- Washington Navel – The most popular orange tree for home growers, the Washington Navel Orange is an easy to grow variety that requires little care and produces an abundance of sweet, seedless fruits with the telltale belly button.
- Cara Cara – A mutation of the navel orange, Cara Cara Orange has a unique pink flesh reminiscent of blood oranges, with a sweet taste that also has just a hint of tart. They also boast a super high vitamin C content, making them a great addition to a healthy diet.
- Valencia – For a daily dose of the very best OJ, Valencia Oranges are the variety you want to put through your juicer. This heat-loving California hybrid orange has a minimal seed count, leaving more room inside for all that extra sweet orange juice.
What can you do with an abundance of baseball-sized sweet citrus fruits? While waking up to a glass of freshly squeezed OJ is a perfect way to start your day, slicing them up and eating them fresh is a tasty and refreshing snack. You can even freeze them, dry them, and use the zest or the peels. With a plethora of vitamins and minerals, you’ll be sure to think of many creative ways to incorporate oranges into your daily diet.
All About Mandarin Trees
The fruit of the mandarin tree (Citrus reticulata) packs a whole lot of punch into its pretty pint-sized package, making them a sought-after selection for edible and ornamental garden design.
Mandarin Tree Origins
Most likely originating in Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, mandarins eventually made their way across the world to Europe and the Americas through trade and cultivation. Mandarins are considered the closest of the citrus varieties to the original wild form of the orange tree.
They continue to be an important part of Asian culture and cuisine—mandarin oranges are a symbol of good luck and are traditionally given as a gift during the Chinese New Year.
Mandarin Tree Appearance
With a similar canopy of glossy green leaves and an abundance of jewel-hued fruits, mandarin trees can reach around 20 feet in height at maturity. Fruits are small and round, with bright orange color and thin, easy to peel skin, and blossoms are small, plentiful, and fragrant.
Common Types Of Mandarin Trees
With so many varieties of mandarin trees and hybrids, it seems like there’s a mandarin to fit every flavor profile. Here are some of the most prolific and popular when it comes to home growing:
- Tango – Bred in California, the Tango Mandarin Tree is a fairly new variety that boasts a very low seed count and an increased cold tolerance, making them attractive to home gardeners where there’s increased threat for temperature fluctuations.
- Satsuma – Originating in Japan, the Satsuma Mandarin Tree is special because, unlike its other mandarin relatives, the satsuma is completely seedless. This makes them the variety most often used in canned fruit and a fresh fruit salad.
- Clementine – Technically a hybrid of a mandarin and an orange, the winter-bearing Clementine Mandarin Tree is known for its slightly smaller size than other mandarins and it's more pronounced orange-red color.
Nothing beats peeling and popping the small segments of a mandarin orange fresh from the tree, but they also can be used in other culinary ways. The easy-to-eat flesh is perfect for including in fruit salads or green salads. With a sweet flavor and petite size, they’re also ideal to use in baking and savory meal recipes that call for the addition of sweet acidity.
Mandarin vs Orange: Which Should You Choose?
Is it even fair to compare two of the tastiest types of citrus fruits? Maybe not, but we can try:
- Fruit appearance – Although size can vary among cultivars, oranges are generally larger in size than mandarins. Mandarins are an easy hand-held size, while oranges are heavier and around the size of a baseball. Mandarins have a slightly darker shade to the skin, and oranges have thicker skin.
- Flavor – The flavor difference between oranges and mandarins is nuanced. While both oranges and mandarins will hit the sweet spot when it comes to fruit flavor, mandarins are generally a tad sweeter than oranges.
- Hardiness – Oranges and mandarins are both sensitive to frost, but some mandarin varieties can tolerate cooler temperatures than an orange tree, which is generally only hardy in zones 9-11. They can both be grown in pots in cooler climates if taken indoors for the winter.
- Height – While very close in overall tree size, oranges can reach about ten feet taller than pure mandarin trees if left unpruned. Both types of citrus also have dwarf cultivars that max out at much lower heights, making them ideal for container gardening.
- Care – Neither orange or mandarin trees require extensive care. The easy-to-maintain plants benefit from regular pruning, watering, and feeding, but aren’t overly fussy as long as they have a warm, sunny spot with excellent drainage.
- Uses – Both oranges and mandarins have a wide array of culinary uses, from fresh eating to tasty additions to both sweet and savory dishes. The stunning white flowers of both citrus varieties are also prized for their fragrance.
Both types of citrus trees will provide attractive shade and pops of bright orange color to any landscape, and the fruits are prolific, tasty, and filled with good-for-you vitamins and nutrients.
Still trying to decide whether you prefer mandarin vs. orange? Consider adding one of each to your yard and have the best of both options. You could even create your own citrus grove, adding in other types like grapefruit, lemon, and lime to cover all the citrus bases.
Bring Sunshine Into Your Space With Plants Express
When it comes to the brightest, sunniest, happiest citrus trees, nothing beats the saturated hues and sweet flavors of oranges and mandarins. Add a piece of SoCal sunshine to your landscape with the gentle beauty and sweet flavor of these fruit trees.
Want an orange, mandarin, or tangelo tree? At Plants Express, we have citrus trees of all sizes and types, so you’re sure to find the perfect citrus plants to complete your space. And don’t stop at citrus—we’ve got plants to fulfill every landscape design dream.
With years of green experience, you can rest easy knowing you’re getting the best California-grown plants for your California landscape.
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Epic Gardening. Navel Orange Tree Care: Sweet Orange Fruit. https://www.epicgardening.com/navel-orange-tree/
Farmer’s Almanac. What The Heck Is A Satsuma? https://www.farmersalmanac.com/what-the-heck-is-a-satsuma-16762
Gardening Channel. Tangerines vs. Oranges, Explained. https://www.gardeningchannel.com/tangerines-vs-oranges/
Los Angeles Times. Navel oranges: full of history, flavor and uses, but not seeds. https://www.latimes.com/food/la-fo-calcook-20150207-story.html
Plant Village. Mandarin Oranges. https://plantvillage.psu.edu/topics/mandarin-oranges/infos
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This Old House. Everything You Need to Know About Clementine Trees. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/gardening/reviews/clementine-trees