How America’s Beloved Meyer Lemon Caused a Mid-Century Citrus Panic

By Mandy Naglich | Atlas Obscura |

ATLAS OBSCURA - Meyer lemon trees could carry the citrus tristeza virus (CTV) and flourish for years without showing any symptoms.

The urgent situation incited the first meeting of the International Organization of Citrus Virologists at the The University of California, Riverside in 1957. This group of scientists and citrus growers urged drastic measures towards Meyer lemons the world over. “Tristeza exists in the Mediterranean area where it has been introduced on the Meyer lemon,” wrote one scientist in a paper he presented at the 1961 meeting of the IOCV. He goes on to suggest that it would be “most desirable” for all Meyer lemon trees “in the Mediterranean basin to be eradicated.”

As news of the troublesome Meyer trickled out of Riverside, the hunt began for the troublesome trees throughout the state. County after county passed bills aimed at uprooting the garden trees to stop tristeza. During the summer of June 1957, in the city of Selma, California, two government officials went door to door, telling residents to remove their Meyer lemons. Roughly 14 days later, they returned to ensure that the trees were gone. The fragrant magenta buds of the Meyer lemon plant were one of its most admired characteristics. Now, they served as a sign of a tree that needed to be destroyed.



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