Citrus A World History

David J. Mabberley

A world history of citrus, from the art of antiquity to the science of the modern era.

Citrus traces the history of today's global superfood from its cultivation in the ancient world from just a handful of original wild species, via Arab trade routes, the noble collectors of medieval Europe, imperial conquerors on the high seas, and merchants betting on the highest-value fruit crop ever known.

The story of citrus permeates human history, as recorded in the literature and art of civilizations from antiquity to the present day. When Alexander the Great’s army swept over the Persian Empire, they found the citron: the first citrus fruit known in the West. During the Napoleonic wars, British ships carried lemons and limes to protect their sailors against scurvy; the "Limeys" ruled the waves. As the citrus trade grew in importance in the nineteenth century, the Sicilian Mafia was established among citrus farmers, protecting their crops and their livelihoods.

Mandarin, citron, pomelo, bergamot, kumquat—a glorious abundance of citrus fruits has delighted and stimulated ancient thinkers and explorers, Arab geographers and scientists, European royalty, artists, physicians, and plant breeders. From the art of the Renaissance to modern advertising and graphic design, this richly illustrated, invigorating cultural history reveals how these extraordinary, life-giving fruits have flavored, scented, healed, and colored our world.


David J. Mabberley


David J. Mabberley is a botanist and writer. He is an emeritus fellow at Wadham College, University of Oxford; adjunct professor at Macquarie University, Sydney; and professor emeritus at the University of Leiden. He is the author of Mabberley's Plant-book: A Portable Dictionary of Plants, their Classification and Uses, now in its fourth edition, and coauthor of Joseph Banks' Florilegium: Botanical Treasures from Cook's First Voyage.