A Tangerine is a small orange colored citrus fruit that is a subspecies of the Mandarin orange. It is characterized by being much easier to peel, split into segments and less tart than an orange. Tangerines have been cultivated in China for over 3,000 years. Chinese tangerines were introduced to Florida and the U.S. market by a missionary, Rev. Barrington, in 1883. Unlike oranges tangerines can be successfully grown from seed opposed to grafting which produces a more hearty cold resistant plant. The word ‘tangerine’ was originally used to describe a native person of Tangier, Morocco in the early 1700’s but stuck as the name for the citrus fruit we now know during the 1800’s.
A clementine is also a subspecies of the Mandarin orange which is easily peeled and less tart than an orange. Unlike a tangerine it is almost always seedless, and in fact has been marketed as a ‘seedless tangerine’ in the past. Father Clement Rodier is said to have discovered an accidental hybrid citrus fruit in the garden of his orphanage in Algeria and this was the origin of what we call a clementine, but now know there is a genetically identical variety of citrus known as the Canton mandarin that has been growing in China for nearly 3,000 years.
Clementines were introduced into California as a commercial crop in 1914, but their market exploded in the U.S. after the historically harsh winter of 1997 devastated the domestic Florida orange crop. Due to their short growing season, only from late November thru January and their increased price and decreased availability they have very recently been marketed as ‘Christmas Oranges’.