For thousands of years, citrus fruits have had a place of immense cultural significance and culinary importance in human culture. Today, lime trees and lemon trees are popular culinary fruits. However, in ancient history, citrus fruits also had a significant place in religious worship, trade, and cultural practices. They have been associated with wealth, social status, and good luck. Today, citrus flavors are part of favorite candies, a flavor essence for countless desserts, popular flavor additives and enhancers for beverages, and an important part of many culinary traditions. 

Two of the most popular and common citrus fruits are the lime and the lemon. But what are the differences between those two citrus fruits? This article compares and contrasts the lime tree with the lemon tree, seeking to identify their commonalities and differences. By the end, you will be able to identify both the lime tree and the lemon tree, know what they have in common, and where they are each unique. This article also examines the history, cultivation strategies, and major uses of each. Let’s dive in and learn more about lime trees vs. lemon trees now!

Descriptions of Lime Trees and Lemon Trees

Lime Trees

There are several tree species that bear fruit called limes. These include Citrus aurantiifolia, also known as key lime, and the limes most frequently found in U.S. grocery stores, Citrus x latifolia, also known as the Persian lime, seedless lime, or one of several other names. The Persian lime is a cross of the key lime and lemon. The fruit of Citrus x latifolia is what most people recognize as a lime. While the name Persian lime references the plant’s early days growing in the region that is now modern-day Iran and surrounding countries, Persian limes are grown in many warm, subtropical countries.

Persian lime trees easily grow to be 6 to 8 feet tall when planted in a container, but when planted outside, they can reach between 15 and 20 feet tall. The trees have bright green, oval-shaped leaves and produce white flowers, which then form green fruit about 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter. 

Citrus x latifolia Persian lime tree
Persian Lime (Citrus x latifolia) is a cross of the key lime and lemon and what most people recognize as a lime.

iStock.com/claudiodivizia

Lemon Trees

Citrus x limon, or lemon, is also a species of flowering tree in the Rutaceae family. The lemon tree is known for bearing sour yellow fruit. Lemon trees are native to Asia and are most likely a hybridization of Citrus medica, also known as citron, and Citrus x aurantium, also known as bitter orange. Today, there are several dozen different types of lemons grown across the world. Among the most common are the widely-grown Lisbon lemons. Lisbon lemon trees grow across the world in warm, tropical and subtropical climates.

While they often grow to be 10 or 15 feet tall when grown in containers, lemon trees can reach up to 30 feet tall when planted in the ground. These large, outdoor lemon trees can have a canopy that is 25 feet wide! Lisbon lemon trees have dark green leaves and produce white flowers, which form yellow fruit that is juicy and acidic. The fruit of a lemon tree typically grow to be between 2 and 3 inches in diameter. The fruit of a Lisbon lemon tree is one of the most commonly-found types of lemons in U.S. grocery stores. However, there are several other popular varieties, which include Meyer and Eureka lemons. 

Lisbon lemon tree
Lisbon lemons are among the most common lemons grown across the world.

SNK Media/Shutterstock.com

Comparing Lime Trees and Lemon Tree

Characteristic Lime Tree Lemon Tree
Scientific Name Citrus x latifolia Citrus x limon
Family Rutaceae Rutaceae
Common Name(s) Persian lime, seedless lime, Tahiti lime Lemon
Type of Plant Flowering evergreen tree Flowering evergreen tree
Origin Persian limes are a cross of other citrus but were first grown widely in the countries that are known today as Iran and Iraq.  Asia
USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 11 9 – 11
Description Persian lime trees are evergreen flowering trees which bear juicy green fruit, which gain a yellow hue as they ripen. The fruit grow to be 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter with thin rinds. They are pulpy inside and produce plentiful juice, which is very sour. Persian lime trees may be grown in containers or outdoors, where they will grow to be between 15 and 20 feet tall at maturity. The flowers are white. Lemon trees are evergreen flowering trees which bear juicy yellow fruit. The fruits grow to be between 2 and 3 inches in diameter. They also have thin rinds, are pulpy inside, and produce sour-tasting juice. Lemon trees may be grown in containers or outdoors, where they will grow to be up to 30 feet tall at maturity. The flowers are white.
Varieties Bearss lime, Page lime, Pond’s lime Bearss lemon, ‘Eureka’ lemon, Lisbon lemon, Meyer lemon

Key Differences

Lemons and limes are two fruits that have a lot in common. Both are citrus fruits with a sour, acidic juice. They have great significance in cooking, medicine, and practical day-to-day use. Their nutritional value is very similar, and they contain similar vitamins and minerals (such as vitamin C). Both lime and lemon trees are evergreen, flowering plant species which thrive in warm, tropical and subtropical climates. Their juices also both have a tart, sour flavor that can be used to add flavor for drinks and food.

However, there are also several ways in which the two plants are quite different. This article explores the unique history, appearance, cultivation needs, and uses of each. Along the way, we will compare and contrast so that you can learn exactly what lime trees and lemon trees have in common, and what sets them apart. Let’s learn more about these two citrus fruit-bearing trees now!

Lime Tree vs. Lemon Tree: History

Today, there are multiple types of lime trees and lemon trees which are cultivated by growers across the world, particularly in warm, tropical climates. However, many of these modern plants can be traced back to a shared root origin.

Citrus x latifolia, the Persian lime, is a hybrid plant believed to likely be a cross between Citrus x limon or Citrus medica and the key lime plant, Citrus aurantifolia. There are numerous species of citrus plants that are called limes, but the Citrus x latifolia is the most commonly cultivated today. The fruit of the Persian lime tree are the most widely sold in grocery stores and accounts for most commercial lime production.

Dating back even longer than the lime, which is believed to potentially be a hybrid crossing Citrus x limon and another species, Citrus x limon has inhabited an important place in cultural and culinary history. The lemon tree is recognized as a cultivated species, which has been grown by people in parts of the world such as modern-day Italy, Iraq, and Egypt for hundreds, if not thousands of years. There, it inhabited a place of immense cultural significance and was used in traditional medicine to treat illnesses. Trade introduced the plant to Spain, where it has been cultivated since the 1100s C.E. From there, it became one of the first new species brought to North America in the 1400s. Since the 1800s, warm, agricultural states like Florida and California have been chief producers of lemon fruit, and this continues into present day.

Lime Tree vs. Lemon Tree: Growing Conditions

Citrus x latifolia, the Persian lime, grows best in warm, sunny locations in soil that has a pH of 6.0 or greater. It will not thrive in shady areas and does not produce as much fruit when grown in soil without good drainage, so avoid planting your lime tree in clay soil. Fertilize your lime trees several times a year, water regularly, and prune only when necessary to remove dead wood or contain the size of the plant. When in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 11, lime trees may be grown outside year-round. If in an area with colder weather during the year, consider planting your lemon tree in a container and transporting it inside during the cooler months. However, if you bring them inside, ensure that the lime tree continues to get sufficient light, as it will not thrive in shade.

Citrus x limon, the lemon tree, also grows best in warm, sunny locations, particularly areas that are protected from strong winds. Like with a lime tree, you should water your lemon tree regularly and fertilize it several times a year, pruning only when necessary to remove dead wood. Try to maintain a soil pH of 5.0-6.0, which is the best for growing lemon trees, but know that your plant will survive in neutral and alkaline soil. As with the lime tree, you may grow your lemon trees outdoors all year long if in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 – 11. If you are growing lemon trees in a colder climate, plant them in containers to bring them inside during colder months of the year. Ensure that the lemon tree receives sufficient light when grown indoors.

Citrus x limon lemon tree
Citrus x limon has inhabited an important place in cultural and culinary history.

Claudio Divizia/Shutterstock.com

Lime Tree vs. Lemon Tree: Cultivation and Production

While the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports continue to show increased per capita consumption of lemons and limes, only one of these fruits is grown in the United States. As of 2019, the USDA did not record any U.S. production of limes but did report that the U.S. imported 1.36 billion pounds of limes in the same year. In comparison, the U.S. imported 322 million pounds of lemons in 2019 but produced 1.41 billion domestically. In particular, the demand for organic citrus has increased dramatically, and there are more varieties sold in grocery stores. 

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), citrus imports to the U.S. in 2020 largely came from Mexico, Chile, Peru, and South Africa. These four countries represented approximately 85% of all citrus imports. Other countries that produced citrus imported to the U.S. include Morocco, Uruguay, Argentina, Israel, Australia, and Colombia.

In return, the U.S. exported citrus fruits primarily to Canada, South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, and Australia, as well as many other countries in smaller quantities.

Lime Tree vs. Lemon Tree: Uses

Uses for Limes

Persian limes are larger than key limes, have fewer to no seeds, are a hardy variety, and do not have thorns on their trees. These factors combined have contributed to the rise of popularity in the Persian lime over key limes and other similar citrus species. Persian limes also have a longer shelf life, which makes them suitable for widespread selling in grocery stores.

Lime fruit are sold for a variety of uses. They are often processed into juice, which can be sold directly or converted into other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages. Lime-based non-alcoholic beverages include drinks such as limeade, which is similar to lemonade and involves diluting lime juice with sugar and water to make a sweet drink. However, lime is also a popular ingredient in many cocktail drinks, such as daiquiris and mojitos, and many other alcoholic beverages include a lime wedge on the side.

Lime is also used as a flavor garnish, particularly in many Asian dishes, such as pho. You also find it squeezed to add flavor to tacos or fish. Lime zest, the shavings of a lime rind, is also popular in cooking. The strong citrus oils of the rind infuse flavor and fragrance into a recipe. Home cooks often use a combination of lime juice and lime zest when baking citrus-flavored desserts. A favorite dessert is the famous key lime pie, which can be made with key limes or Persian limes. 

Persian lime on a tree
Persian limes are larger than key limes, have fewer to no seeds, are a hardy variety, and do not have thorns on their trees.

LUCKY PEOPLE/Shutterstock.com

Uses for Lemons

For many years, the fruit of the Citrus x limon tree has been used for numerous medicinal, culinary, and practical uses in daily life. In traditional medicine, lemon juice treats many health conditions. This includes using it as a cure for scurvy even before humans understood vitamin C. Essential oils extracted from lemon fruit have also long been used to treat coughs and other symptoms. Many people also love them for their pleasant citrus aroma. That makes lemon essential oil a great air freshener!

In food, lemon juice, like lime juice, is often used in beverages or as a flavoring. Lemonade, which combines lemon juice with sugar and water, is a popular beverage sold in stores or made at home.

Lemon-flavored candy is popular, as are lemon-flavored treats such as popsicles and baked goods such as lemon meringue pie. Lemon juice is also a popular source of acidic flavor in recipes for salads, fish, and vegetable dishes. The varieties of lemon most often sold in North American grocery stores today include Bearr lemons, Eureka lemons, Lisbon lemons, and Meyer lemons. Many of these varieties are produced within the United States in California or Florida.

Outside of culinary tradition, lemons also have many practical uses. The acid of lemon juice can serve as a natural bleach or brightener. For that reason, it is often used in cleaning and as an active agent for numerous household chores. The pleasant aroma of lemon juice is often recommended to clean bad-smelling kitchen appliances. Cleaners also use it to remove soap scum or spots from faucets.

Nutritional Value of Limes and Lemons

While lime is a good source of vitamin C, it is surpassed by the lemon. In general, lemons have more vitamin C and slightly greater amounts of other vitamins and minerals as well. Limes may have a higher concentration of citric acid, which may help human bodies absorb minerals and fight inflammation, however, this may make the flavor of the juice slightly more bitter and less sweet than that of a lemon.

In Summary

Both lime trees and lemon trees are popular citrus fruits with a number of similarities. You may grow both outside in warm temperatures or inside in containers. They have similar growing needs and will yield similar fruits. However, as this article discussed, there are also several key differences.

  • Lemons, which tend to grow to be 2.5 to 3 inches long, tend to be larger than limes. Limes often only reach 1.5 to 2.5 inches long.
  • Lemons are often slightly sweeter than limes, due to limes having a higher level of citric acid. 
  • Lime trees are shorter than lemon trees, growing to be only 15 to 20 feet tall outdoors. Lemons can grow to 30 feet tall!
  • Lemons have a relatively wider number of uses in household chores and are more widely cultivated.

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