Citrus and Coffee Trees as Houseplants

Question from Bob:
My grapefruit tree never bore fruit (I think there was something about the way commercial grapefruits are produced), but it had tough, firm, deeply green lustrous leaves that gave off the scent of citrus when rubbed, and it grew to be 5′ high

I kept it in a pot indoors.

I also had a potted coffee tree – it *did* bear fruit: a handful of deep red coffee beans every year. I roasted them in my oven – enough for 1-2 cups of coffee (which sadly didnt taste like much – perhaps my roasting technique was lacking).

Both of these lived around 25 years until they succumbed to the ravages of age.

Answer from Pat:
Your seed-grown citrus tree sounds as if it made an excellent houseplant. Leaves of some fragrant Tai fruitless citrus varieties are used to flavor cooking. Twenty-five years sounds like a ripe old age for a house-grown citrus seedling. If you’d re-potted it and top and root-pruned it might have gotten a new start and gone on for another twenty-five.

All citrus trees come from one genus and the seeds called pips must be planted when fresh in order to sprout and grow, so yours must have come from a fresh seed. Growing things like this on window sills was something many English kids did in the 1930’s. My nurse would sometimes help me plant many odd things from seeds on the window sill of our nursery. Many bearing citrus trees have been grown from seeds planted outdoors in climates appropriate for citrus growing but these chance seedlings may not bloom or bear fruit for many years—at least ten years and often fifteen or perhaps more—, and when they do bear one cannot guess how good or bad the fruit will be. It may be totally inedible due to hybridization between modern varieties.

All commercial and home varieties of citrus fruit are grown from special varieties grafted onto root stock. Grafted citrus trees can bloom and bear fruit only a year or two after planting, but trees from chance seedlings might not do so for ten or even fifteen or more years, if ever.

Lemons are much happier growing in pots than any other citrus tree and more likely to bear fruit even if roots are confined and plants kept small. Another interesting point is that some varieties began from a mutation on a tree of another variety. That is thought to be the origin of the ‘Moro’ variety of blood orange. It’s much darker than others. A branch bearing this fruit was found on a tree in Sicily towards the end of the 19th century.

Yes, coffee plants can be grown as houseplants and will often bear berries as yours did. You can purchase plants mail-order from a Florida wholesale house.

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