Sunday, July 11, 2010

Real Flying Dragons

Growing up I was very fond of "Godzilla" and "Gamara" movies. For the non-geeks in the audience, Gamara was a giant monster turtle.....he was a good guy type monster.
Anyway, the fairy tale, monster type stories, I never really got into was the flying dragon type ones. Godzilla to me was just more believable.
Then I got heavy into horticulture, now I believe in flying dragons!! Of course, I am talking about Poncirus trifoliata 'Flying Dragon'.
The dragon is one of only a few deciduous (loses its leaves in Winter) Citrus relatives. Without its leaves it looks like this:

Can you kind of see how it got its name? The branches look like dragons in flight.

There is also a straight form of the Poncirus trifoliata, all information regarding the two are interchangeable, other than the twisted stems.
Introduced to the U.S. from Japan in 1915. Highly prized in the Orient, where it has been cultivated for centuries. The dragon is used primarily as rootstock for other Citrus trees. A rootstock is a plant onto which another plant is grafted onto. Why would you want to graft one kind of Citrus onto another?
Flying Dragon is used for a number of reasons:
1) It gives some cold hardiness to the Citrus on top. FD is considered cold hardy to about -15 degrees. So folks as far north as Cape Cod, Massachusetts can grow the Flying Dragon. Sorry my northern friends, the scion (Citrus on top) will not survive that cold. It only offers it a couple of extra degrees of protection.
2) It dwarfs the Citrus tree. A dwarf tree is simply one defined by convention as being about 5 to 6 feet tall at maturity. In other words, a common grapefruit or sweet orange tree on "standard" or non-dwarfing rootstock will reach a 15 to 20-foot height at maturity, while a tree on Flying Dragon may grow to only "dwarf" size.
3) It also offers some resistance to certain soil borne illnesses. One example is it has resistance to Phytophthora foot rot. Foot rot, is also known as brown rot gummosis. This disease can affect the root system, the trunk below and above ground, branches, leaves, blossoms and fruit. Infection of the lower areas of the trunk results in dark, water-soaked areas in the active areas of infection. Often gum exudes profusely from active lesions. The dead bark frequently breaks away from the wood in vertical strips. In other words, a really nasty disease for Citrus.
The Flying Dragon is considered a slow growing tree. Requires full sun and a well draining soil. It does very well in containers and can be used as a Bonsai. It is also used for hybridization or breeding of other types of Citrus trees. I mentioned the cold hardiness of FD's. Breeders have been crossing the Poncirus with many other kinds of Citrus, trying to introduce that cold hardiness into some of the better tasting fruits. There has been very little success. There are a few good crosses out there however, Dragon Lime being one. This is a cross between the Flying Dragon and probably a Sweet Orange, though the exact parentage is not known. It has a Limeade like taste and is the size of a Sweet Orange. If nothing else,they have come up with some really weird names due to the crossings: Citradia (Poncirus and Seville Orange)....Citraldin (Poncirus and Calamondin) and my favorite... Tai-Tri (Poncirus trifoliata and Citrus taiwanica).
What about the fruit that it produces on its own? Have you ever tasted kerosene? That pretty much describes the flavor. They are edible in the sense that you won't die from eating them, but you may wish you would. Michael Dirr, in his "Manual of Woody Landscape Plants", comments that "Ripe fruits set aside for several weeks become juicy and develop a sprightly, slightly acid flavor. Serves as a substitute for lemon, pulp can be made into marmalade, and peel can be candied". I have never waited several weeks to try this, I can't get past the initial smell and gag reflex. They are ugly, seedy little fruits too, about the size of golfballs:

When growing FD beware of the thorns. I read somewhere that it maybe illegal to put barbed wire around your home, but the dragon is a very good, legal, substitute.(See very first picture again) Imagine having a solid hedge of this around your yard?
The name Poncirus trifoliata reveals a little about its description. The word trifoliata is a form of the word trifoliate or having three leaves or leaflike parts. As you can see in this picture:

Courtesy, University of Georgia

The dragon also produces pretty white flower that are fragrant and attract bees. With all this being said, Lets recap what that the Poncirus trifoliata is good for, Grafting, Hybridization, Ornamental, Stalag 13 encampment and one last thing that I haven't mentioned......They are good for Target Practice!!
Happy Growing!


  1. Do you know if the FD rootstock makes it possible to grow it in slightly soggier soil since its more resistant to illnesses? That has kept me from growing oranges but if I can grow a grafted specimen in a mound in my moist backyard maybe there's hope. Containers are out of the question because I only get over there once a week or so.
    By the way, there's a nursery called Flying Dragon Nursery in the Mandarin area here in Jax, and guess what they specialize in?
    Thanks for yet another keeper of a post.

  2. Hi Darren,
    I joined your site recently, and I have left a couple of comments. I LOVE your blog, and try to absorb all the knowledge that you so graciously share with us. This time though, I feel compelled to comment on your opening anecdotes about Godzilla and Gamara - I was amused when I read it as I am all too familiar with these two mythical characters.
    My husband is a HUGE fan of Godzilla, he has a vast collection of Godzilla figures that spans the entire space of one of our bedrooms - all dedicated to Godzilla and other Japanese monsters and action figures. He is such a fanatic, he has as much traveled to Japan to acquire many of his authentic Toho figures and continues to collect. Not sure to what extend you are or were interested in Godzilla and Co. - but if ever you are in Southern California, please drop by to see us.
    Once again, I truly love this site you created, I have visited often since I have discovered it. I have 4 citrus trees in containers, we live a block away from the ocean and I need a lot of help and guidance with my citrus, which are the apple of my eye. So, this site is a heaven-sent for me.
    Thanks so much for sharing.
    Best, Marie

  3. Don in Oklahoma is working on various citrus x poncirus is his link:

  4. What are the chances of growing FD from collected Summer fruit? Or would it be easier to just go buy some? Not that I'm looking for easy. From a nostalgia point I would like to do the former.

  5. Hey Paul, Absolutely! Summer fruit, Winter fruit, whatever you get will produce viable seeds and in turn viable plants.
    I take it you have a source?

  6. I have several of these growing in my recemtly acquired pasture in Hinds Co MS... They are really striking in winter, I agree! I can not wait to see the flowers in Spring!

  7. I live on a lake in central Oregon, near the central coast. We purchased a Chinese dragon tree a couple of years ago. It lost it's leaves and hasn't regrown them since. We left it in it's original pot. It gets full sun and the natural rain from the weather. I wondered when it will produce leaves again and if ever produce fruit? Can you expand my knowledge of this specimen? Appreciated.

    1. Anonymous, Are you talking about Poncirus trifoliate? There are many other plants that are called Chinese Dragon Trees, such as: Paulownia kawakamii and Dracaena marginata as well as others I am sure. Please let me know which one you have so I can tell you more about it. Thanks!

  8. Hi, I'm in Western Australia and I recently learnt about the existence of this tree. I love the twisted thorny look it has in winter and feel the need to acquire this plant as an ornament and also for some experimental grafting if I can get more than one. The plant itself appears to be unavailable to Western Australia or atleast not easily found I should say. I can find a couple of people selling seeds on ebay but don't like my chance of them getting past Quarantine. So I'm considering sacrificing a dwarf mandarin which I recently purchased because of the shoots coming from the FD Rootstock.

  9. You can actually do a couple of thing.
    Yes, sacrificing the dwarf mandarin would work.
    You can also try taking some cuttings and see if they will root for you.
    Send me an e-mail to
    I might have a source close to you that would have some seeds.

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  12. Wow I just stumbled across your article and am fascinated by these flying Dragon hybrids! Do you know anyplace that might have them that would be willing to ship to the east coast? I'd love to grow a few (or all) of them !!!

    1. Hello Devin. What part of the East Coast are you?
      You might want to check out:
      He has a few of them.
      You can also check out:
      Both of these guys are in South Carolina.
      Hope that helps!?

  13. Hello. I have three Flying Dragons on my property. I am noticing yellowing, drying leaves that are falling to the ground on one of them, but not the others. Not all of the leaves are yellow and falling-just some. This particular plant is about 6 feet from another Flying Dragon which is green, vibrant and healthy. Both of them are Southern facing in my backyard and receive lots of direct, afternoon sunlight. I have been using a moisture meter when watering and notice that the one that has the yellow leaves is to the dry side more often the its closer, green neighbor. I know that I can overwater Flying Dragon, but can it be under watered (dry), too?

    I sincerely look forward to your input.


    1. Absolutely! I would bet dollars to donuts that is what is wrong, under watering. If you are watering them both the same, the soil on the dry one must drain better. Either water that one more often or more deeply.

  14. Hello. I have been growing a Flying Dragon for about five years now. Although I have transplanted the plant one time from pot to directly inground. the plant seems to be happy because it is now about 6 foot tall and as wide as a small car. It produces fruit the size of a golfball. very beautiful. I was wondering if there was some way to preserve the fruit?

  15. I don't know about preserving the fruit, though I am not sure why you would want to. You can freeze the juice.

  16. Hi Darren,
    Love the site! I plan on looking around more, and will also probably have many more comments and or questions, but for now, just a quick question about FDs...
    I have about 20 FD seedlings in several containers in my yard. I live in balt, md, zone 7b. I know they are considered hardy, even down to -15, but I'm wondering if their hardiness is dependent upon their maturity? I purchased my seedlings from ebay, all very nice and healthy.given their slow growth rate, I'd say this was probably their second summer season, as most of them are only about a foot tall. Sorry, I have a tendency to ramble on, especially about all things plant related. I'll get to my question... Baltimore has had some pretty severe winters as of late. At such a young age, how do you think I should overwinter them, if at all. They have pretty much lost all of their leaves and are on their way to dormancy. Should I bring them into the warmth with my other tropicals, for one more season perhaps? Get them in the ground now? Maybe just bury the pots and mulch heavily? Help?
    Thanks in advance. I appreciate the knowledge u share here!
    Take care,

    1. Thank You for the kind words!
      I don't think with Poncirus it matters about age.
      If I was in your shoes, do a little of each that you mentioned. Bring some in, Leave some out and try mulching the rest.
      Let me know come next September or October, I will probably have a ton of seeds for you if you want them.

    2. So, I've been doing some research and haven't found my answer and you might know. I want to graft dwarf Key (Mexican) Lime and dwarf Meyer or Lisbon Lemon trees. I'm in Arizona. I see that Flying Dragon appears to be the right rootstock to do it, but do I need to graft the FD to another rootstock that actually goes in the ground. I've seen it used as a middle piece and I don't understand why. Your help would be appreciated!! If I just need FD rootstock do you know where I can find seeds? Thanks!!!

    3. So, I've been doing some research and haven't found my answer and you might know. I want to graft dwarf Key (Mexican) Lime and dwarf Meyer or Lisbon Lemon trees. I'm in Arizona. I see that Flying Dragon appears to be the right rootstock to do it, but do I need to graft the FD to another rootstock that actually goes in the ground. I've seen it used as a middle piece and I don't understand why. Your help would be appreciated!! If I just need FD rootstock do you know where I can find seeds? Thanks!!!

    4. Hello Donna,
      Interesting. I really haven't heard, nor can I think of, a reason why you would need a bridge like that. I do not think that Arizona would need something like that.
      My best thinking on this would be to just use the flying dragon.
      If you had let me know about two months ago, I could have sent you dozens of seeds.
      If you can wait until about November or so, touch base with me via E-mail ( and remind me. I will send you bunches.

  17. Hi there! Do you have any recommendations for a good companion plant for the Flying Dragon? For instance planting tansy beneath an orange tree enhances flavour of the oranges as well as acting as a good insect repellent for citrus. In your experience does the FD do well with particular flowers or herbs planted beneath it?

    1. Hello Eden,
      I actually had never heard of the thing with Tansy until you posted this.
      As of now, I do not have any recommendations for a good companion to Flying Dragon. I will keep this in mind and see what I happen to find.
      Thank You for the question and the food for thought!

  18. Hi Darren, I recently purchased Meyer Lemons from Ebay but noticed that the leaf structure was very different from that of the Meyer plant. Initially, I thought it was the Kaffir Lime, but it had additional bilateral leaf appendages. Kaffir only extends in two clusters. But, because of this blog, I was able to rule out, with confidence that what I received was not Mayer Lemons but almost surely Flying Dragons. Imagine growing this for two years, and finding out later on that I received the wrong plant. It would be almost impossible to dispute the error because of the length of time. Thank you for publishing. It sure enlightened a lot. Joseph

    1. Hello Bizarreaudio, I am not sure why, but I JUST saw your post! My apologies!
      It is possible that, what you bought, at one time, was a Meyer Lemon. That part may have died and the rootstock, "Flying Dragon" took over.

  19. Hi

    As you P.trifoliata hybrids (ex. Citrangequat "Thomasville") lose their leaves if the winter is cold? Could they be semi-decidous tree as "cousin" of a decidous tree?

    1. Hello Francesco, is very possible. I have a Thomasville that loses some of it's leaves every year, but not all. Very good point!

    2. Here, in North Italy, we had -9°C (16° F)....but it's almost 3 weeks that during night temperatures drop under 32°F (normaly between 20 and 30° F)....and above freeze during day.

      My young thomasville curled most of its leaves....but the wood seems ok.

      Last years i covered it, and it did not lose leaves (some were a little "browned").

      So i thought that there could be a range between "death of tree" and "death of the leaves"....since there is Poncirus "DNA", could it become semi-decidous tree under cold condition?

      I read it should resist until 5°F (15°C)....colder temperature than we have had.


  20. Hi
    I took some cuttings over 6 months ago kept in mix of compost and coco peat and kept moist in a old milk bottle (local nursery mentioned keeps moist) and they look great grew a few leaves and still green and look same as when took cutting however none seem to have grown roots . A little wiggle confirms loose , no roots out bottom of pot and one I took out of pot to check shows no roots ..
    Is there anyway I can get some roots to grow - the cuttings are more then 6 months old appear still ok and green , kept moist soil and put in with rooting hormone powder .. (No willow around here) am in south east QLD, Australia
    Thanks Mark

  21. Do seeds of Flying Dragon come true to form, I have heard they produce both twisted flying dragon and normla looking trifoliata seedlings?

    1. That is a good question!
      Yes, there are two forms of the trifoliata, the twisted and the straight, but I am not sure if they come true to type or are random.
      Thank you for my homework assignment, I shall endeavor to find out.