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Title: Lemon tree
Original Title: Citronnier
Volume and Page: Vol. 3 (1753), pp. 489–3:491
Author: Unknown
Translator: Ann-Marie Thornton [Bilkent University, Ankara, Turkey]
Subject terms:
Original Version (ARTFL): Link
Source: Russell, Terence M. and Anne Marie Thornton. Gardens and landscapes in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and D'Alembert : the letterpress articles and selected engravings. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. Used with permission.

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Citation (MLA): "Lemon tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. Web. [fill in today's date in the form 18 Apr. 2009 and remove square brackets]. <>. Trans. of "Citronnier," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, vol. 3. Paris, 1753.
Citation (Chicago): "Lemon tree." The Encyclopedia of Diderot & d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project. Translated by Ann-Marie Thornton. Ann Arbor: Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, 2013. (accessed [fill in today's date in the form April 18, 2009 and remove square brackets]). Originally published as "Citronnier," Encyclopédie ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, 3:489–3:491 (Paris, 1753).

Lemon tree, [1] [2] from the Latin citreum, citrum, malus medica.  [3] Pliny. Virgil.


Illœsum retinet citrus aurea frondis honorem,
Malaque floriferis hœrent pendentia ramis,
Veris & autumni pulcherrima dona. [4]

The lemon is indeed this beautiful tree, forever green, which spring, merged, so to speak, with autumn, presents to us laden with blossom and fruit, some of which ripen and fall as others only begin to ripen or appear. [5] Vying with the orange and perhaps meriting the preference, it differs from the orange only in its fruit and leaves, which are broad and rigid like bay leaves but do not have tapered bases.

Ipsa ingens arbos, faciemque simillima lauro:
Et si non alium latè jactaret odorem,
Laurus erat: folia haud ullis labentia vends:
Flos apprimè tenax: animas, et olentia Medi
Ora fovent illio, & senibus medicantur anhelis.
(Virgil, Georgics, II, line 131) [6]

This tree, which comes from Media, grows very tall and resembles the bay. If its scent were not so different, it could easily be mistaken for the bay. Its leaves do not succumb to the north wind and its blossom remains firmly attached to the branches. The Medes freshen their mouths with it and use it to strengthen aged asthmatics̵. [7]

Description: Geoffroy, Tractatus de Materia Medica.  [8] It is of medium height in our gardens. It has spreading roots: they are ligneous and their bark is yellow on the outside and white on the inside. The stem is not very broad: its wood is white and hard, and the bark is pale green. It grows a large number of long, spindly, pliable branches: the oldest are yellow-green and covered with whitish flecks; the young shoots are of a fine, bright green, and the tips of the branches and leaves are soft and reddish brown.

The leaves are nearly as large as those of the walnut: they are often blunt, sometimes pointed, and almost three times longer than wide; they are greener above than beneath, slightly serrate, and covered with veins emanating from their broad midribs. They are sometimes wrinkled and look dented: they grow densely, last all winter, and have a good, bitter fragrance. They seem pierced or dotted with transparent spots when they are seen in the sun, like those of Saint John’s wort. [9] Most of the leaves have a spine in the leaf axils: they are green with reddish tips, very rigid, and quite long.

There is a mass of blossom at the tips of each branch which forms a type of bouquet. The rose-shaped flower is usually composed of five fleshy petals carefully arranged in a whorl. The petals are white with red flecks on the outside: they are supported by a small, green calyx divided into five lobes and enclose an abundance of whitish stamens topped with yellow. The blossom exudes a faint scent which is sweet then bitter. Some of the flowers are fertile, having at the centre of the stamens a longish pistil which is the fruit embryo, while the rest are sterile, since they have no pistils. The sterile flowers soon fall while the former subsist.

The fruit is often oblong, sometimes spherical or pointed at the tip, and sometimes flat: the surface is wrinkled and gland dotted. The fruit often measures nine inches and sometimes more, as it varies in size and weight, with some lemons weighing up to six pounds.

The outer rind is thin, leathery, bitter, and constipating: it is green becoming golden when ripe and is strongly fragrant. The inner layer or wall is thick, cartilaginous, firm, white, sickly, somewhat sour, slightly fragrant, and divided on the inside into several segments full of a sour juice contained in pulp vesicles.

Finally, each fruit contains a large number of pips. Some have over 150 pips enclosed in their vescicles. The seeds are oblong and usually pointed at each end, half an inch long, and covered with a hard, membraneous skin which is furrowed, yellow, bitter, and encloses a white, bitter-sweet kernel.

Origin: the lemon tree, as its Latin names imply, was first imported from Assyria and Media in Greece into Italy and thence into the southern countries of Europe. [10] It is cultivated in Sicily, Portugal, Spain, Piedmont, Provence, and even in several northern gardens, where it does bear fruit but of a quality far inferior to that of lemons grown in warmer climates. The lemon is also cultivated in China, the East and West Indies, and America, according to Sir Hans Sloane, Voyage to Jamaica, ii.176. [11]

Cultivars: botanists distinguish approximately ten main lemon-tree cultivars, although they are aware that gardeners in Genoa, which is the great tree nursery of Europe, are so keen to increase this number that they augment it every day. [12]

The most prized cultivar is that of Florence, from which each lemon sells for fifty shillings of our change: they are sent as presents to the different courts of Europe. This particular cultivar grows perfectly only in the plain between Pisa and Livorno, and although it has been transported from this spot to several other choice sites in Italy, its fruit always loses much of the zest and tartness which it derives from the soil of this plain.

Use made of it by the Romans: lemons were not consumed in Pliny’s day and Plutarch relates that they had not long been used as food when he was born. According to Athenaeus, lemons were extremely valuable at that time: they were used to protect clothes from moths and give them a pleasant scent, which probably explains the origin of the term ‘vestis citrosa’. [13] Lemons were already being eaten in Galen’s day and Apicius has recorded for posterity the way in which they were prepared. [14]

As the lemon tree has since become widespread, modern authors offer an immense number of observations on the virtues of the tree and its fruit, part of which is used in medicine. See Lemon (Chemistry).

Some lemons are also oranges: that is, a certain number of locules or solid segments right through to the centre of the fruit are orange segments, and the remainder are lemon. The number and distribution of these locules vary from fruit to fruit. Are these trees a product of art or do they constitute a particular species ( Histoire de l’Académie des Sciences, 1711, 1712)? In the former case, is this marvel brought about by the application of pollen onto the pistils of foreign trees? This could be conjectured on the basis of similar examples found in the animal world if an analogy between the animal and vegetable kingdoms were permitted in physics. This would doubtless be an excellent means of obtaining new types of fruit, but one must await experiment before pronouncing. [15]

In the Ephémérides d’Allemagne, mention is made of malformed lemons shaped like hands, and père Dentrecolle has sent a sketch of a lemon named ‘hand of God’ by the Chinese, by whom it is prized for its beauty and fragrance ( Lettres édifiantes, xx.301). [16] This fruit resembles a closing hand and its rarety has led Chinese workmen to imitate it with the pith of the tong-stao, which they hold in place with several iron wires forming the fingers. Did the lemon described by the German observer originate from the seed of the Chinese lemon, or did its shape have some particular cause which altered the species?

Another peculiarity, an even stranger monstrosity, is mentioned by several authors: it is of one lemon developing inside another, ‘citrum in citro’. It must first be seen and a description may then be dispensed with, for here it is not a question of a double or twin fruit which is formed when two buds develop from a single stalk and are so close to one another that their flesh intermingles, but of one lemon growing from the centre of another. However, it is possible that this phenomenon has been ill-judged and wrongly reported: those who account for it by an abundance of sap do not offer a satisfactory explanation, because it is hard to believe that the force and fecundity of the sap can alone produce one lemon inside another, without the stalk, blossom, and all the organs which normally produce the fruit.

Lemon-tree wood of the ancients: it remains for me to mention the lemon-tree wood of the ancients, which was extremely rare and prized by the Romans. In order to have merely beds, doors, or tables of this wood, it was necessary to be excessively rich and magnificent. That is why Pliny wrote that ‘the wood of this tree is rarely used for furniture, even for the greatest lords. Cicero had a table made from it which cost two thousand crowns.’ [17] Asinius Pollio bought one for thirty thousand pounds. [18] There was one table worth more than 40 thousand crowns, differences in value being determined by the size of the tables or the beauty of the grain and knot, the finest tables having only a single root knot.

The promise made by Horace to Venus on behalf of Paulus Maximus, book IV, ode 1: ‘Albanos prope te lacus / Ponet marmoream sub trabe citrea’ (‘he will erect a statue of marble in your honour in a temple of lemon tree wood near the lake of Alba’) was not inconsiderable, for a temple made from lemon-tree wood must have required a prodigious outlay. [19] However, this would not have been the first Temple of Venus made from this wood: one has only to read Theophrastus, book V, ch.5 [ sic ], and Pliny, book XII, line 16, to be convinced of this. [20]

This detail, for which I am indebted to père Sanadon, demonstrates that this is not our own lemon-tree wood, but we do not know which tree Horace’s ‘citrea’ was: we can no longer identify it.

In the Scriptures, mention is made of ‘algum’ wood (III Kings x.11). [21] This has taxed scholars: some claim that it is the savin and some the Acacia, while others understand by ‘algum’ wood which is sticky or gum-yielding. [22] Since it was a rare wood, which Hiram’s fleet shipped from Ophir and which had never been seen before, the most likely explanation is that it was ‘thuya’ as translated by the Vulgate, that is, African cedar wood, because the country of Ophir was probably the coast of Sophala in Africa. [23] Therefore, the wood ‘algum’ or African cedar could well be Horace’s citrus wood, so rare and sought after for its pleasant scent, fine venation, and durability.

Ancient authors.

Scholars may here consult Dioscorides, book I; Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum, book I, ch. 4 [ sic ]; [24] Athenaeus [ Deipnosophistai ], book III, chs 7, 8; Palladius [ De Re Rustica ], book IV, ch. 10; book VIII, ch. 3; Pliny, books: XII, ch. 3, XV, chs 14, 28, XVI, ch. 26, XVII, ch. 10, XVIII, ch. 6 [ sic ]; [25] Geop[onica], book X, ch. 7-9; Macrobius, Saturnalia, book II, ch. 15 [ sic ]; [26] Paulus, book I, lines 108, 150; book VII, lines 103-5; Solinus, ch. 46; Apicius [ De Opsoniis et Condimentis Sive de Re Culinaria Libri Decent ], book I, ch. 21.

Modern authors.

Commelinus (Joannes), In Hesperidibus Belgicis, August-Vindel., 1676, folio: in Dutch.

Ferrarius (Joannes Baptista), Hesperides, Rome, 1646, folio, with illustrations: beautifully printed; even more finely illustrated; excellent work; original edition.

Geoffroy, Tractatus de Materia Medica, book VI: very good. [27]

Grube (Hermann), Analysis Mali Citrei Compendiosa, Hasniæ, 1668, 8°, Hamburg, 1674, 4°: mediocre compilation.

Jovinianus (Joannes), [De] Horti[s] Hesperidum, book II, Basle, 1538, 8°.

Lanzoni (Giuseppe), Citrologia, Ferrara, 1690, 12°: this short treatise is included in Lanzoni’s collected works.

Nati (Pietro), Observatio de Malo Limonia Citrata-Aurantia, Florence, 1674, 4°, illustrated.

Sterbeeck (Franciscus van), Citricultura, Antwerp, 1682, 4°: in Flemish, with fine illustrations.

Wolchammer (Joseph Christophe), Hesperidum Morib[undus], book IV, Nuremberg, 1713, folio: this is the Latin translation of the work, which was first published in German and printed in Nuremberg in 1708, folio: good.

One may consult Friedrich Hoffmann’s works on the medicinal properties of lemon.

Ferrarius has, in addition to other subjects, treated the cultivation of the lemon tree, which is of interest to applied botany, with much erudition. This cultivation is similar to that of the orange tree, as Miller has remarked; see Orange tree.

Nebel has detailed the anatomy of the fruit and Seba has outlined the structure of the leaves. The[sau]r[i], i, plate 4. [28] On a different subject, M. Geoffroy, master of his art, has described the process of extracting the essential oil of the lemon by boiling the juice down to the consistency of a clear syrup. He has also found a third method of drawing the essential oil from the lemon which he places above the two methods we have discussed. [29] See Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences, 1721, 1738.


1. On chevalier Louis de Jaucourt (1704-80), the author of this article, see above, pp. 28, 76. Though of invaluable assistance to Diderot, Jaucourt was recognized to be ‘more of a compiler than a creative and original thinker’ (Russell, 1993, p. 21). In particular, Jaucourt, who contributed most of the Encyclopédie articles on Ancient History, referred extensively to classical authors. He wished to make Latin the preferred medium of scholarship in the belief that this would facilitate the dissemination of knowledge throughout Europe and make the translation of texts into a number of European languages unnecessary (Grell, 1995).

2. The French ‘citronnier’ meant lemon tree from 1486, but Jaucourt confuses his description with that of the citron (‘cédrat’ in French from 1680). Diderot describes the citron as ‘a type of lemon tree’ (translated from article ‘Cedra’, Encyclopédie, ii.796).

3. ‘Citrus’ is the ancient name for Tetraclinis articulata, the sandarac or thuya. It was given to Citrus medica or citron, the first species of Citrus to spread to the Mediterranean coast, because it had the same uses as thuya or sandarac wood, and its fruit was named Mala citrea, or citrus apple. Named Citrus limon by Linnaeus, the lemon may have originated as a hybrid between the lime, itself a hybrid, and the citron. Most citrus fruits are thought to have derived from three known species: Citrus maxima, Citrus medica, and Citrus reticulata (Harris, pers. comm.; Huxley et al., 1992, i.634). See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 161.

4. The golden citron retains the unspoilt beauty of its foliage, / Laden with fruit clinging to the flowering branches, / It offers the most beautiful gifts of spring and autumn’.

5. Cf. Pliny: ‘The [citron] tree itself bears fruit in all seasons, some of the apples falling while others are ripening and others just forming’ ( Naturalis Historia, book XII, ch. 7).

6. After Cicero, the Roman poet Publius Vergilius Maro, or Virgil (70-19 BC ) was the most studied Roman writer in eighteenth-century France. Georgics (29 BC ) from ‘georgica’, meaning husbandry, is a didactic poem in four books, of which the second is devoted to trees. However, the work is less a practical farming manual than a representation of the Italian farmer’s life as a moral and national ideal (Grell, 1995; Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, pp. 237-8, 566).

7. Virgil is describing the citron ( Georgics, book II, lines 126-127).

8. Etienne-François Geoffroy (1672-1731) was a celebrated physician whose education included presiding over experiments in which Homberg and Cassini participated (see above, p. 227). He became a member of the Académie des Sciences and the Royal Society, and succeeded Pitton de Tournefort at the Collège de France. His seminal work was revised and published by Etienne Chardon de Courcelles in 1741. Geoffroy distinguishes between the citron and the lemon, but Jaucourt appears to ignore his distinction ( Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, 1842-65, xvi.208-9; Geoffroy, 1761-63, iii.330-39).

9. The leaves of Hypericum, or Saint John’s wort, are gland-dotted. See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 356.

10. Jaucourt is referring to the citron. The origin of the lemon has not been traced, but it may have been brought to the Mediterranean in AD 1000-1200 by Arabs. Media was a mountainous country south-west of the Caspian Sea. The Medes were related to the Persians, and were the first people of Asia to rebel against the ruling Assyrians: their Median empire lasted from the seventh century BC until 549 BC, when, under Cyrus, the Persians became dominant (Huxley et al., 1992, i.635; Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, pp. 337-8).

11. The naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) collected 800 new plants on a fifteen- month visit to Jamaica from 1687-88. He compiled a catalogue of Jamaican plants in 1696 and published an account of his travels in two volumes in 1707 and 1725. Sloane distinguishes between the citron and the lemon tree, but Jaucourt appears to confuse the descriptions (Huxley et al., 1992, iv.303; Sloane, 1707-25, ii. 176-9).

12. The author uses the word ‘espèce’, rather than cultivar.

13. That is, clothes which smell of citron. The Greek author Athenaeus was writing in c. AD 200. In Deipnosophistai in fifteen books, twenty-three luminaries dine together periodically in Rome, and talk in detail on a number of topics, including food (Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, p. 70).

14. Galen of Pergamum ( AD 129-99) was a Greek physician based in Rome, whose influence on medicine remains unparalleled. Marcus Gavius Apicius was a gourmet under Tiberius ( AD 14-37). His recipes were written down, but the extant work is believed to have been compiled in the fourth century (ibid., pp. 44, 233).

15. These are probably hybrids. See articles: ‘Oranger’, ‘Mulet’.

16. Du Halde (ed.), 1702-73. The Jesuit François-Xavier Dentrecolles (1664-1741) presided over the French mission in China from 1672 and published many works in Chinese. The letters which he contributed to the Lettres édifiantes detail a number of plants and fruit trees of which Dentrecolles sent seeds to Europe ( Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, 1842-65, x.424-5).

17. Pliny is referring to the wood of either the citron or the thuya, the ‘original citrus wood’. See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 705.

18. The wealthy statesman and man of letters Gaius Asinius Pollio (76 BC-AD 4) founded the first public library in Rome; Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, pp. 438-9.

19. According to modern translations, the Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, or Horace (65-8 BC ) is here referring to citron wood: ‘Paulus will erect your statue / under citron beams by the Alban lake’ (lines 19-20). Book IV of the Odes, in which there are fifteen poems, was published in c. 13 BC. In eighteenth-century France there were fifty-five new editions, translations, or reprints of Horace’s works, while those of his friend Virgil’s works numbered seventy-six. The distinguished Jesuit Noël-Etienne Sanadon (1676-1733), who was named librarian of the collège Louis-le-Grand in 1728, was considered to be the finest translator of Horace in his day (Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, pp. 278, 373; Biographie universelle ancienne et moderne, 1842-65, xxxvii.596; Grell 1995).

20. Theophrastus, Historia Plantarum, book IV, ch. 4. In Naturalis Historia, book XII, ch. 2, Pliny states that the myrtle was traditionally dedicated to Venus.

21. ‘And the king [Solomon] made of the algum wood supports for the house of the Lord, and for the king’s house […] no such algum wood has come or been seen, to this day’.

22. The savin is Juniperus sabina, which is a type of juniper. There are 1,200 species of Acacia, which yields gum arabic. The biblical ‘algum’ is now thought to be Santalum album, or Indian sandalwood, with which chests are made. See D. J. Mabberley, The Plant-book: a Portable Dictionary of the Vascular Plants (Cambridge, 1997), 2, 374, 637.

23. Tetraclinis articulata, or thuya, is native to North Africa, Malta, and Southern Spain: it is not cedar wood. Its timber has been used in construction since antiquity, and, as the ‘original citrus wood’ (see above, n. 48), it may well be the wood to which Horace alludes. East Africa has been suggested as a possible location for Ophir, but India is considered a more probable one (ibid., p. 705; Encyclopedia Britannica, 1995, viii.966).

24. Book IV, ch.4.

25. See Naturalis Historia, books: XII, ch. 7; XV, ch. 14; XVI, ch. 44.

26. See book II, ch. 19, line 2. The Roman thinker Ambrosius Theodosius Macrobius wrote this dialogue in seven books around 400 AD. Book II concerns life in Rome (Howatson and Chilvers, 1996, p. 329).

27. See Geoffroy, 1761-63, iii.330-39.

28. Albert Seba, 1734-65.

29. Jaucourt has only discussed one such method. See Geoffroy, 1761-63, iii.330-39.