page updated 27Oct2001 and 15th November 2023
Anyone with more than a passing interest in citrus will soon find themselves confused by the names of different fruit and the trees from which they come. How many shoppers at the supermarket know why some fruit are labelled Satsumas or Clementines or Tangerines or Mandarins?
The reason for all this confusion and multiple naming is that no-one can reliably sort out the origins of citrus. They have been cultivated and selected for so long, in many different parts of the world, that the original forms are lost. There are very few truly 'wild' varieties and these are invariably far different from cultivated forms. To add to the confusion, citrus hybridises readily, so new crosses, both man-made and natural, appear readily.
Back to the Satsuma/Clementine/Tangerine/Mandarin problem. I think the best term is Mandarin, although in the USA, Tangerine - originally applied to the Dancy variety - is widely used. In James Saunt's book 'Citrus Varieties of the World' he follows the classification:-
Citrus unshiu Satsuma Mandarin
Citrus deliciosa Mediterranean Mandarin
Citrus nobilis King Mandarin
Citrus reticulata Common Mandarin - of which most varieties are Clementines.
Still confused? I'm not surprised. There are plenty of interesting results if you do a search for 'citrus taxonomy'. The science is beyond the scope of this website.
See also my page about
There have been numerous attempts to classify all varieties, but the two most notable - about 100 years ago - were by the American researcher Swingle and the Japanese Tanaka.
Walter Tennyson Swingle
Now Swingle and Tanaka have memorably been described as the 'lumper' and the 'splitter' of citrus species. So Swingle 'lumped' many similar types together and gave them one species name, whereas Tanaka looked at every slight variation and 'split' them into differently named species. For instance, there are 36 Tanaka species, ranging from C. Amblycarpa to C.Yuko, that Swingle calls Citrus reticulata. Yet today researchers believe from genetic studies that all citrus are derived from just three original types - C. reticulata (mandarin), C. medica (citron) and C.maxima (pummelo).