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  • Katherine Dudley Hoehn

Things aren't always as they may first appear

This is not a grapefruit, just a funny Roseate Spoonbill

Gerald Grapefruit was nurtured by my sister on their farm in Tennessee during his formative years. She planted seeds from a particularly sweet grapefruit from my brother’s Florida farm, hoping to get a tree to grow and bear fruit.

Gerald got haircuts in his formative years and spent summers on the deck and winters in their sunny kitchen. He became increasingly lethargic. Gerald moved here to live with me, ready for sunshine and the rich north Florida soil where he could spread his roots.

Gerald after his first growth spurt

The first year in Florida, Gerald grew four feet. He was gangly looking, with branches coming out every which way. In early spring the second year, Gerald developed a few lovely white blooms. The blooms became tiny green fruit. I kept my sister apprised with photos of Gerald and she visited frequently.

My agronomist brother, a native Floridian, noted that my grapefruit tree did not look like a grapefruit tree. Shrugging, I said it was probably because it spent most of its life outside of Florida. That was my first clue that things are not always what they seem.

I used an organic citrus fertilizer on Gerald, Katy (my key lime tree), and the twin Meyer lemons, all planted on the sunny side of the yard. The Meyer twins are still holding out on fruit bearing.

First blooms

As Gerald’s second summer progressed, his fruit was small and there were many of them. Worried about his branches overloading and overtaxing him, I sought advice from the family agronomist. He recommended culling the fruit to about 30 for the tree, a large first-year crop of grapefruit. “Are you sure you have a grapefruit?” the agronomist asked. Again, I shrugged.

Not grapefruit
Larry and Katy (left to right)

Reluctantly, I removed more than 30 of the small fruit. They exuded a wonderful citrus smell, but more limey than grapefruity. Curious what an undeveloped grapefruit looked like, I cut one open. It looked like a lime, it tasted like a lime, and... it was a lime.

“How could this happen?” I asked my brother. Not one to mince words, he said, “our sister planted a lime seed, not a grapefruit seed.” I called and let her know Gerald was now Larry, because he produced limes. She asked how her grapefruit tree could produce limes.

Further investigation uncovered evidence that the original grapefruit tree planted in her pot long ago probably had some lime seeds dumped in by one or more of her children. The lime seed grew and snuffed out the grapefruit. How else could a grapefruit tree became a lime tree

This year the trees are filled with limes!

Soon after, I begin distributing limes in the neighborhood, because between Larry and my original key lime tree, Katy, I had quite a crop. One neighbor was delighted to have fresh limes for her cosmopolitans, another planned to use them for baking. I found new recipes to try and celebrated with a gin and tonic (my favorite adult summer drink). Frankly, I was delighted to have another prolific lime tree, although I rather liked the name Gerald.

This year, Larry and Katy are competing to bear the most fruit. Larry is twice as tall as Katy, who is stout and full of life but vertically challenged from a falling fence post accident early in life. Neighbors have already inquired about this year’s crop, and I plan to share broadly. There will be at least 200 limes, all ready to pick very soon.

Larry's first fruit this year

Things aren’t always as they appear, but when you get a lime instead of a grapefruit you can make limeade, key lime pie, cosmopolitans, gin and tonics, and a host of other things to share with your neighbors…because sharing is the most fun of all.

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Debbie Heiden
Debbie Heiden
Aug 29, 2021

After reading this delightful article, I had to make myself a gin and tonic. I only wish I would have had a lime from Larry!


Aug 29, 2021

Things aren't always as they appear as in the case of Larry the Lime Tree and life in general. May Larry long live and prosper!

I love lime in a cocktail, too.

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