Essential No. 8: Meyer lemon

The West’s sweetest citrus might just be from a tree in your own backyard

Meyer lemon

Thomas J. Story

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And you thought being a federal bureaucrat was boring. Frank Meyer was a "plant explorer" for the U.S. Department of Agriculture when he arrived in China in 1905. After battling heat, cold, and at least one assassin, he was traveling near Beijing when he encountered a dwarf lemon tree he shipped back to America.

Meyer’s life was short: He drowned, mysteriously, on a return expedition to China. But his namesake tree won immortality. California growers deemed the lemons too soft for commercial use, but home gardeners fell in love with the Meyer’s nearly year-round bounty, cooks with its sweet, orange-accented flavor.

For decades the Meyer was a Western gardening secret, but now Meyer sorbets and soufflés star on menus in Manhattan and Miami, and a few growers in California’s Central Valley are planting orchards (albeit only acres at a time) to meet rising demand. Still, if you live anywhere the winters aren’t frosty, the best Meyer lemons will be the ones you grow in your backyard.

Let life give you lemons

Many nurseries stock Meyer lemon trees. Or order one from Four Winds Growers or Menlo Growers.

Sunset Plant Finder: Learn more about growing Meyer lemons and other citrus

Western Essential No. 7: Mariachi

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