A satsuma is a small seedless member of the citrus family. It is sometimes called a satsuma mandarin, since it closely resembles the mandarin orange. Satsumas are sweet, hardy, and easy to grow, making them a popular citrus cultivar around the world. In season, they can be found at many grocery stores, and enterprising gardeners may want to experiment with growing satsumas on their own.
Like other members of the citrus family, the satsuma has simple dark green glossy leaves and aromatic white flowers. The flowers mature into fruits which range in color from green to orange. Although a green satsuma might at first glance seem unripe, it is actually not unusual to encounter a sweet and flavorful version of the fruit in green. Unfortunately, many producers dye their green citrus fruits orange to make them more appealing. The attractiveness of the satsuma makes it a great ornamental tree.
The skin of a satsuma is slightly leathery, and tends to pull away from the fruit as it ripens. This can make it difficult to discern the quality of a satsuma, since the fruit could be bruised or dried out under the skin. As a general rule, try to aim for firm fruit with a strong citrus aroma. In addition to being sold fresh, satsumas are also canned for sale year round.
Although the satsuma is named after a province in Japan, the trees are actually native to China. Botanical records from China indicate that the satsuma has been in cultivation for thousands of years. It was allegedly brought to Japan by a Buddhist monk. Numerous cultivars of the satsuma were developed in Japan, and some were ultimately exported back to China. The fruit reached the West in the 1800s, when embassy personnel sent samples of the fruit and trees to the United States and Europe.
People who would like to grow satsumas at home should be aware that the while the plant is cold tolerant, it will not fruit as much in cooler regions. Ideally, the plant should be grown in an area which has warm, long summers, and it prefers full sun. In the winter, the plants will need to be taken indoors if the temperature falls far below the freezing point. The plants also thrive on minimal water, and prefer to be be left largely alone. For extremely sweet, flavorful fruit, try leaving satsumas on the branches for approximately one week after they appear to have fully ripened.