Can Lemon and Lime Trees Cross-Pollinate

Gardening is more of a skill than many people may realize. It takes knowledge of not only all the plants you have and what their individual needs are, but also how they will co-exist and interact in the same space. Planting lemon and lime trees are a great investment as the citrus plants can be used in an abundance of recipes, to freshen your air, and are beautiful in any yard.

Can lemon and lime trees cross-pollinate? Yes, as members of the same genus, it is genetically possible and very likely that nearby lemon and lime trees will cross-pollinate. Cross-pollination of lemon and lime trees will affect the plant’s seeds, but not the parent trees.

With all the gardening work, you want to get the lush, thriving plants and perfectly ripe fruit you are hoping for. Cross-pollination is a tricky, natural process that often mistakenly goes unaccounted for. If you are planting multiple citrus trees, like lemon and lime trees, cross-pollination will likely occur because most citrus types are closely related.


What is Cross-Pollinating?

To understand cross-pollination, you first need to understand the process of pollination.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, pollination is “the act of transferring pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma.” Plants need genetic information, transferred by pollen, from both the male and female parts of a plant to produce offspring.

The male part of a plant is the stamen. The stamen is made of two parts: the filament and the anther. The anther produces and contains the pollen – the female part of the plant in the pistil. The pistil has three parts, the ovary, style, and stigma. The stigma is the part that receives pollen through pollination.

Pollination in nature can occur in one of two ways:

  • Self-pollinating- In self-pollination, a plant can fertilize itself. The plant does so by having both the female and male plant organs.
  • Cross-pollinating- Cross-pollination uses a pollinator, something that carries pollen from one plant to another, to deliver genetic material from anther to stigma. Wind, bees, water, butterflies, and other animals that visit flowers can all be pollinators.


What Plants Cross-Pollinate?

Cross-pollination is not a separate process; rather, it is a way in which pollination occurs. Cross-pollination happens accidentally.

Wind and water carrying pollen happen randomly according to weather. Insects and animals spreading pollen happen not purposefully, but because of pollen sticks to the creatures as they go from one flower to the next. For example, as a bee goes from flower to flower each time it lands pollen from the flower may stick to its legs. Then. the pollen can be transferred when he lands at his next stop and moves around.

The random nature of the cross-pollination allows for different types of plants to swap genetic information, which is usually a gardener’s main concern. Combining the genetic material of two different plant varieties can result in a new variety, with characteristics of both parent plants.

Cross-pollinating can play a different role in gardens depending on the plants:

  • Some horticulturists, or even just experimenting home gardeners, create conditions that encourage cross-pollinating hoping to produce new plant varieties.
  • Some plants require cross-pollination from a nearby plant of the same variety to thrive and produce fruit.
  • Some plants cannot cross-pollinate with each other because they are too different, making their genetic material incompatible.


What Happens When Lemon and Lime Trees Cross-Pollinate?

When planting a lemon and lime tree near each other, they will cross-pollinate, but the effects of this will not be seen in the fruit they bear. The most prominent effect of cross-pollination will not change the parent trees, but the seeds they produce.

Your lemon tree will continue to grow bright yellow lemon and your lime tree will continue to grow beautiful green limes. However, if you save the seeds from either your lemons or limes, they may carry genetic material from both the lemon and lime tree. So, when planted, it could result in a tree that bears fruit with characteristics of both.

Most citrus varieties are self-fertile, meaning they do not rely on cross-pollination to produce fruit. However, cross-pollination only supplies more genetic material to encourage the production of fruit. With no harm to the plant or changes to the parent trees, cross-pollination between a lemon and lime tree is not problematic for the gardener.


What Makes Lemons and Limes So Different?

If you are interested in the possibility of planting cross-pollinated seeds, you may be wondering what the product would look like. Of course, that is up to mother nature, and just how genetic material mixes and presents itself is always a gamble.

By knowing the characteristics of lemon and lime plants, you can have an idea of what to expect and be able to discern the mix of lemon-and-lime-like features. Lemons and limes are often grouped together as two sour members of the citrus fruit family. There are differences you can see and if you have ever subbed one for the other in a recipe, you will know the two have unique flavors.


Lemons have a thicker, bright yellow rind, grow to about 2-4 inches in diameter, and grow in an oval shape. Lemons are often described as being slightly sweet, underneath the pungent sourness anyone who has bitten a lemon is sure to recognize.


Limes have a thinner, bright green rind. If limes are not picked, their rind will turn a bright shade of yellow. You may have noticed yellow spots on a lime from the grocery store, this is why. This often leads to the misconceptions that limes are simply unripe lemons, which is not true. Limes grow to only 1-2 inches in diameter and into a round shape. The flavor of limes is bitter and often described as more sour than lemons. Limes are also more acidic than lemons.

Hybrid Citrus Fruits

Meyer Lemon by Debra Roby (CC by 2.0)

Citrus plants are easy to cross-pollinate and have lots of variety to play with. So, it is no surprise there are plenty of citrus hybrids commonly sold that are the product of cross-pollinating two different citrus varieties.

A common example is the Meyer Lemon. The Meyer lemon is a hybrid citrus fruit native to China. The Meyer lemon is a cross of citron and a mandarin/pomelo hybrid. Meyer lemons are larger and have a thicker, deeper colored rind. Meyer lemons have a moderate sweetness and are recognized for a tangy flavor.

Some citrus fruits have been manipulated genetically is to create a fruit that producers predict will sell better. Seedless lemons and clementines are two examples of this. Seedless lemons have the allure of no seeds which makes for easier juices and clementines are as healthy and tasty as oranges with thin, easy to remove peels.

Today many of the citruses we see in grocery stores are hybrids of other citrus fruits. These crossovers occur both naturally and are promoted by farmers and horticulturalists.


Take Away

Cross-pollination is just one-way plants can do what they are made for, producing fruit and offspring plants. When two plants with different, but close enough, genetics cross-pollinate it can breed an offspring with a mix of characteristics. As stated, cross-pollination brings changes to the offspring, but not to the original plants. So, your lemon and lime trees can happily coexist with no change to their fruit and no inconvenience to you. You can enjoy sweet lemonade and tart margaritas all season long!