Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Key Lime

It was some eleven years ago that I got my first Citrus tree. That fateful day will forever be etched in my wife's memory. We were at a grocery store right around the Christmas holidays. There in the floral section was a poor, sad looking little Calamondin tree. It was 50% off and still had some fruit on it. My wife said "You ought to get it", she regrets those words! Kinda.
That was back in 1999, the Calamondin was the first, second to come along was my Key Lime. I lost track after that. The Key Lime has been a sturdy little producer ever since I got it. There have been many a pie and cookies made from the fruit of this tree.

The Key Lime, also known as a Mexican lime or West Indian lime, originated in southern Asia and was carried by the Arabs across North Africa into Spain and Portugal. It was brought to the Americas by the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the early part of the sixteenth century where it escaped cultivation and became naturalized in parts of the West Indies, some Caribbean countries, and southern Florida, specifically the Keys.
It is a small, bushy tree, rarely taller than 12 feet tall and wide, with slender branches armed with short spines. Its dense foliage consists of small, pale green, blunt-pointed leaves with narrowly winged petioles. There is a thornless Key Lime, but the yields of fruit are usually much lower.
Key lime trees require full sun, and are very sensitive to cold. They are among the most frost sensitive of the Citrus family. Considering they are so sensitive to the cold and stay relatively small, they make a good container grown tree. Albeit a decent size container, but one nevertheless.
They are well adapted to a variety of soils, but require good drainage and does not tolerate wet feet. Like all other Citrus, Key Limes are heavy Nitrogen (first number on the fertilizer bag) feeders. Don't forget, this is the nutrient that leaches out of the soil the most. A very important piece of information if you are growing it in a container.
Key lime is frequently propagated from seed, they will come true to type. From seed, you can expect fruit in 4-5 years. They are one of, if not THE, earliest Citrus to fruit from seed.

What would an article about Key Limes be without a mention of the pie?

As to who made the first key lime pie, no one really knows for sure as it has never been documented. The most likely story is that William Curry (1821-1896), a ship salvager and Florida's first self-made millionaire, had a cook that was simply know as Aunt Sally. It was Aunt Sally who created the pie in the mid to late 1800s. Some historians think that Aunt Sally didn't really create the Key Lime Pie, but probably perfected a delicacy that was the creation of area fishermen.

On July 1st, 2006, Key Lime Pie became the official pie of Florida. Of course, this followed on the heels of the time in 1965, Florida State Representative Bernie Papy, Jr. introduced legislation calling for a $100 fine to be levied against anyone advertising key lime pie that is not made with key limes. The bill did not pass.

So, go out, get yourself a bag of Key Limes at your local grocery store. Use them to make an authentic Key Lime Pie, they might try to resurrect the 1965 bill and you don't want to be fined! Then plant the seeds and in a few years you will have more Key Limes than you know what to do with.
Happy Growing!


  1. I wish we could grow limes in the UK - your post has made my mouth water!

  2. I like Key limes. They aren't quite as acidic as regular limes. When I get lime juice for my recipes, get Key lime juice if I can find it.

  3. While we can grow some citrus in the San Francisco Bay Area, the frosts this winter killed many of the local key limes.

  4. Hi,

    Just purchased a Thornless Key Lime and a Improved Meyer Lemon tree. I live in Georgia on the coast. We have a lot of wind off the lake and marsh. Winters are not too bad with temperatures down to the 30's and a few 20's. The thornless is suppose to grow to 12-15' x 12-15' and the meyer grows to 10-20' x 10-20'. Plan to plant them along the NW fence where there is full sun. Any suggestions before planting would be appreciated. Thank you

  5. Hello Anonymous,
    It sounds to me like it will be a great spot.
    Is the fence by any chance something like a privacy fence? I am a little concerned about the Key Lime, the Meyer will be fine. I ask about the fence because it might be able to give off a little heat during those 20's you mentioned. You didn't mention how far into the 20's though. If it is upper 20's, you should be okay, as long as they are not prolonged into that range.
    What kind of drainage do you have?
    Do you have a salt problem? They don't like a lot of salt spray.
    If you have any other specific questions, please let me know.
    The best way to get me is my e-mail:

  6. I would so love to have a true Key Lime tree, but all I can get locally are the Mexican Limes (NOT the same tree) and because I am in California can't buy a tree. Do you know where I can get truly authentic key lime seeds? Too many o them call them Mexican Limes or Bartender's Limes and I won't buy those. You just don't know what you're getting and I'd hate to put in 5 years of nurturing only to end up with a Mexican Lime I could have bought at the local nursery. I'm in Southern California so no danger of frost here.

    1. I will see if I can find some true Key Lime seeds around here. We have some very good markets.
      You can touch base with Four Winds Nursery out in your part of the world....
      They list a Key Lime. Maybe you could call and ask if it is a true one.