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Learn the History of the Key Lime Tree

The Key Lime (Mexican) is native to the Indo-Malayan region. It was unknown in Europe before the Crusades and it is assumed to have been carried to North Africa and the Near East by Arabs and taken by Crusaders from Palestine to Mediterranean Europe. In the mid-13th Century, it was cultivated and well-known in Italy and probably also in France. It was undoubtedly introduced into the Caribbean islands and Mexico by the Spaniards, for it was reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520. It readily became naturalized in the West Indies and Mexico, There is no known record of its arrival in Florida. Dr. Henry Perrine planted limes from Yucatan on Indian Key and possibly elsewhere. In 1839, cultivation of limes in southern Florida was reported to be "increasing". The lime became a common dooryard fruit and by 1883 was being grown commercially on a small scale in Orange and Lake Counties. When pineapple culture was abandoned on the Florida Keys, because of soil depletion and the 1906 hurricane, people began planting limes as a substitute crop for the Keys and the islands off Ft. Myers on the west coast. The fruits were pickled in saltwater and shipped to Boston where they were a popular snack for school children. The little industry flourished especially between 1913 and 1923, but was demolished by the infamous hurricane of 1926. Thereafter, the lime was once again mainly a casual dooryard resource on the Keys and the southern part of the Florida mainland.

In 1953, George D. Fleming, Jr., proprietor of Key Lime Associates, at Rock Harbor, on Key Largo, was the chief producer of limes. Though he had sold several of his groves, he was developing a new one as part of a "vacation cottage colony".

Fearing that this little lime might disappear with lack of demand and the burgeoning development of the Keys, the Upper Florida Keys Chamber of Commerce launched in 1954, and again in 1959 with the help of the Upper Keys Kiwanis Club, an educational campaign to arouse interest and encourage residents to plant the lime and nurseries to propagate the tree for sale.

The Mexican lime continues to be cultivated more or less on a commercial scale in India, Egypt, Mexico, the West Indies, tropical America, and throughout the tropics of the Old World. There are 2,000,000 seedling trees near Colima, Mexico. Mexico raises this lime primarily for sale as fresh fruit but also exports juice and lime oil. New plantings are being made to elevate oil production. In 1975, Rodolfo Guillen Paiz, Chief of the Citrus and Tropical Fruit Subproject of ANACAFE in Guatemala, reported the initiation of a program to establish the Mexican lime as an all-year commercial crop for the fresh fruit market, the production of juice and lime peel oil, and, as a first step, the creation of a collection of selections as a genetic base for development of an industry, possibly in association with cattle-raising since it had been observed that cattle do little damage to the trees.

Production of Mexican limes for juice has been the major industry on the small Caribbean island of Dominica for generations. There are at least 8 factories expressing the juice which is exported largely to the United Kingdom in wooden casks after "settling" in wooden vats and clarifying. In England, it is bottled as the world-famous "Rose's Lime Juice" put out by L. Rose & Co., Ltd., or as the somewhat different product of the chief competitor, A. C. Shellingford & Co. Surplus juice, over their requirements, is sold to soft-drink manufacturers. Since 1960, Rose has produced lime juice concentrate in Dominica for export. There is also considerable export of lime oil distilled from lime juice and oil expressed from the whole fruit. Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic export lesser amounts of juice and oil. But the Dominican Republic has recently enlarged its plantings in order to increase its oil output. Montserrat ships only juice. Ghana is now the leading producer of lime juice and oil for L. Rose & Co., Ltd. Gambia began serious lime processing in 1967.

The Mexican lime grows wild in the warm valleys of the Himalayas and is cultivated not only in the lowlands but up to an elevation of 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It was first planted on the South Pacific island of Niue in 1930. A small commercial industry has been expanding since 1966. Some of the fruit is sold fresh but most of the crop is processed for juice and oil by the Niue Development Board Factory. These products are shipped to New Zealand, as are a good part of the peels for the manufacture of marmalade and jam. Production was crippled by a hurricane in 1979. This storm inspired a search for rootstocks that could be expected to withstand strong winds.

The Mexican lime is native to the Indo-Malayan region. It was unknown in Europe before the Crusades and it is assumed to have been carried to North Africa and the Near East by Arabs and taken by Crusaders from Palestine to Mediterranean Europe. In the mid-13th Century, it was cultivated and well-known in Italy and probably also in France. It was undoubtedly introduced into the Caribbean islands and Mexico by the Spaniards, for it was reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520. It readily became naturalized in the West Indies and Mexico, There is no known record of its arrival in Florida. Dr. Henry Perrine planted limes from Yucatan on Indian Key and possibly elsewhere. In 1839, cultivation of limes in southern Florida was reported to be "increasing". The lime became a common dooryard fruit and by 1883 was being grown commercially on a small scale in Orange and Lake Counties. When pineapple culture was abandoned on the Florida Keys, because of soil depletion and the 1906 hurricane, people began planting limes as a substitute crop for the Keys and the islands off Ft. Myers on the west coast. The fruits were pickled in saltwater and shipped to Boston where they were a popular snack for school children. The little industry flourished especially between 1913 and 1923, but was demolished by the infamous hurricane of 1926. Thereafter, the lime was once again mainly a casual dooryard resource on the Keys and the southern part of the Florida mainland.