Trifoliate Orange (Poncirus trifoliata), also known as the “hardy orange” or “flying dragon,” is the most cold hardy of all citrus.  It is a large, deciduous shrub that produces an unusually sour, downy fruit considered to be nearly inedible when raw but medicinally beneficial and delicious when cooked. The fruit is commonly juiced, made into marmalades, jams, jellies, or candied. Trifoliate oranges are slightly smaller than conventional oranges and taste like a blend of lemon and grapefruit.

This citrus family plant (whether it belongs in a separate genus is debated), can thrive outdoors in temperatures as cold as -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  At 10-15 feet tall with densely tangled and very thorny green branches, the shrub is often planted as a natural barrier hedge. Its palmate leaves are egg-shaped, typically grow in threes, and smell spicy when crushed. Its fragrant and attractive spring flowers are white with a yellow stigma and anthers. Trifoliate oranges are part of the rue or citrus (RUTACEAE) botanical family and originated in Northern China and the Korean Peninsula—although they have now spread and become naturalized in parts of the southern United States.


Trifoliate oranges prefer direct sunlight but can tolerate shade. They are generally easy to grow with few pest and disease challenges.  The shrubs are  tolerant of sandy and loamy soils and a range of moisture levels as long as the soil is well-drained.

WINTER: This shrub is winter-hardy down to -10F!  It drops its leaves in the winter, but the branches and thorns are evergreen.

SPRING: Flowers will bloom in early spring, followed by the leaves. Light pruning is optional, and mulching or hand-weeding solves its aversion to nearby soil cultivation.

SUMMER: The fruit will appear green while unripe. If extreme drought, additional watering may be needed—although trifoliates are generally quite drought tolerant and pest resistant.

FALL: The fruit will ripen, turning from green to yellow, ready to harvest in the fall when the fruit has a little ‘give.’


If stored for two weeks after being picked, the hardy orange also can produce a small amount of juice that is rich in vitamin C (boosts immunity). The fruit contains phytochemicals like coumarins (antioxidant, increases blood flow). Other known beneficial qualities, utilized in Traditional Eastern Medicine, include anti-inflammatory, anti- allergenic, and anti-emetic (soothes nausea) properties. Some even process its thorns and stem bark to treat toothache or viruses!

Before consuming trifoliate orange, please read POP’s edible plant disclaimer at the end of the article.


Cold-stratify stored seeds for one month in the fridge. Store them in a container with a damp paper towel. After one month, sow in early spring in a greenhouse. Once large enough, place seedlings into individual pots and nurse them in a greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them in their permanent position in early summer. Suitable for sandy, loamy, or clay soils—preferring well-drained.

Tough and resilient, it can grow in nutritionally poor soil regardless of the pH quality. Prefers a hardiness zone from 6-10 and full-sun. The shrubs will establish fairly quickly and fruit heavily–living about 25 years! The shrub produces many seedlings at the base which can also be up- potted to establish new plants.


  1. Hardy Orange Marmalade :

Use 30 to 50 Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange fruit depending upon their size. Wash well.  Cut each one equatorially and twist the halves apart. Squeeze the pulp, seed and what juice there is into a bowl. Remove the seeds. This is helped by adding a little water. You can slice the peelings or leave them whole.

Add the peelings to a jar holding 2.5 cups of water and 1/8 teaspoon of baking soda. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes. Pour off about 2 cups of the water. Add the juice and pulp and simmer for 10 more minutes. Meanwhile put enough jars (lids and screw-caps) for eight cups of marmalade into a big pot of water and bring them to a boil. Continue to let them boil very gently until the marmalade is ready to can.

Measure 4 cups of sugar then take 1/4 cup of that sugar and mix it with one package of pectin in a small bowl.  In the large bowl add enough water to the juice/pulp mixture to bring the volume to 5.5 cups and put it in a gallon pot for cooking. Add the sugar/pectin mixture from the small bowl and a 1/2 tablespoon of oil. Bring  a full boil stirring constantly as it heats. Then add the rest of the sugar and heat this till it again reaches a full boil. Boil for one more minute only. Turn off the heat and quickly put the marmalade into the sterile jars. Fill each jar to within 1/4 inch of the top, wipe off any marmalade that touches the rim. Set the lid, tighten, then do the next jar. Sealed jars should keep for months.

If you want to reduce the bitterness of the Flying Dragon Trifoliate Orange peelings first you can parboil them in as many changes of water as you like until the water is not bitter or of a bitterness of your liking. Cooking will leave a resin on your utensils. Alcohol will remove it quickly.

2. Trifoliate Orange Lemonade, etc.  

The juice of Trifoliate Oranges can be used in place of lemon juice in many recipes, although some experimentation is necessary because the juice can be bitter as well as sour.  Some have noted the juice makes a great addition to tea and cocktails containing citrus like Old-Fashioned.  Any lemonade recipe can be used- basically you want to use lots of sugar and water to balance the acidity of this fruit!

Sample lemonade recipe:

1 & 3/4 cups sugar

8 cups water

1 1/2 cups trifoliate orange juice

In a small saucepan, combine sugar and 1 cup water. Bring to boil and stir to dissolve sugar. Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Remove seeds from juice, but leave pulp. In pitcher, stir together chilled syrup, lemon juice and remaining 7 cups water.




The Philadelphia Orchard Project stresses that you should not consume parts of any edible plants, herbs, weeds, trees,​ or bushes until you have verified with your health professional that they are safe for you. As with any new foods that you wish to try, it is best to introduce them slowly into your diet in small amounts.

The information presented on this website is for informational, reference, and educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as a substitute for diagnosis and treatment by a health care professional. Always consult a health care professional or medical doctor when suffering from any health ailment, disease, illness, or injury, or before attempting any traditional or folk remedies. Keep all plants away from children. As with any natural product, they can be toxic if misused.

To the best of our knowledge,​ the information contained herein is accurate and we have endeavored to provide sources for any borrowed​ material. Any testimonials on this web site are based on individual results and do not constitute a warranty of safety or guarantee that you will achieve the same results.

Neither the Philadelphia Orchard Project nor its employees, volunteers, or website contributors may be held liable or responsible for any allergy, illness,​ or injurious effect that any person or animal may suffer as a result of reliance on the information contained on this website nor as a result of the ingestion or use of any of the plants mentioned ​herein.

SUPPORT US!  If you found this entry useful, informative, or inspiring, please consider a donation of any size to help POP in planting and supporting community orchards in Philadelphia: