The cold hardy citrus tree, Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon,’ adds four seasons of fabulous flair to the public or private garden.
Backyard gardeners living above the citrus belt have long desired cold hardy citrus with edible fruit. Considered cold hardy to minus 20°F, Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is grown in USDA zones 5-9.
Citrus is native to Southeast Asia. Modern citrus developed in China where citrus trees have been cultivated over 4,000 years. The dwarf cultivar citrus ‘Flying Dragon’ was introduced into the US from Japan in 1915.
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‘Flying Dragon’ citrus needs a sunny to partial sunny location in fertile well-drained acidic soil. Regular deep watering is recommended.
Citrus trees are heavy feeders and require a high nitrogen fertilizer like 19-10-5. Foliar sprays of liquid iron and micronutrients are beneficial too.
Citrus trees require very little pruning compared to other fruit trees. Necessary pruning includes such things as dead or broken branches, suckers, watersprouts, and lopsided growth.
‘Flying Dragon’ matures to a height of 6 feet at a moderate growth rate.
The deciduous dwarf oriental ornamental ‘Flying Dragon’ is also known as a Japanese bitter orange or Japanese hardy orange tree.
In winter the sculptural architecture of the twisted green twigs and threatening thorns, which curve backward like talons, is most obvious and ominous. The green thorny lacework of branches casts eerie shadows and silhouettes of flying dragons.
By spring fragrant clusters of showy white 5-petaled flowers decorate the leafless stems.
In summer green fruit appears among glossy green leaves. Each leaf is made of three oval leaflets, hence one common name trifoliate orange.
In fall the leaves turn yellow at about the time the round fuzzy golf-ball sized fruits ripen to yellow-gold. Fruits can remain into winter.
‘Flying Dragon’ fruits are harvested for the juice, pulp and zest.
Fruits are allowed to ripen for several weeks after picking to reduce the acidity. A limeade-like beverage is made from the juice plus plenty of sugar.
The pulp is favored for marmalade. The zest is used to flavor confections and culinary dishes.
The fruit is filled with seeds that propagate easily.
‘Flying Dragon’ brings a mythical marvel in the landscape at botanic gardens and public display gardens. The tree’s natural growth is as artistic as forms created by artists such as Alexander Calder whose stabile of a ‘Flying Dragon’ appears in the North Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago.
In the backyard garden the dwarf ornamental oddity adapts to bonsai, to outdoor containers, and to being a striking singular specter specimen.
For the security minded gardener ‘Flying Dragon’ makes an excellent impenetrable hedgerow as good as or better than barbed wire or an electric fence. In the past the tree was planted on rangeland as a thorny hedge to confine livestock. Its intruder repellent quality extends to rabbits and deer.
Commercial nurseries use the dwarf specialty ornamental Poncirus trifoliate ‘Flying Dragon’ as the grafted rootstock for citrus varieties because of cold-hardiness, soil borne disease resistance and dwarf size.
Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’ is an unconventional conversation plant with four-season interest along with a variety of culinary and landscape uses.