Lime Tree vs Lemon Tree: How to Tell the Difference | Gardenine (2023)

Alex K. Worley( Botanist )

Certified Master Gardener, horticulturist, and experienced plant care expert.

The main difference between lemon trees and lime trees is that the leaves of lemon trees are elongated and have smooth edges while those of lime trees are rough and heart-shaped with serrated edges. Also, full-sized lemon fruits are bigger than mature lime fruits.

(Video) The Difference Between A Lime And Lemon Tree

Are lemons and limes the same?

Lemons and limes are not the same even though both are citrus fruits that share similar nutritional benefits and botanical characteristics. You can check for unique identification features of each to determine whether the fruit you are holding is a lemon fruit or lime.

There aren’t major distinguishing features between lemon and lime roots because they’re both citrus trees. Keep in mind that most citrus trees have shallow invasive roots and so they shouldn’t be planted near infrastructure or plumbing lines. Instead, opt for non-invasive tree species such as the miniature lemon and orange trees.

Differences between lime and lemon

Lemon and lime trees share similar features that make it difficult to differentiate one from the other. Both belong to the citrus family, have almost similar growing requirements, and have similar-looking fruits. But there are some features that distinguish them.

Here are the differences between lime and lemon trees:

Lemon TreeLime Tree
Lemon trees produce larger fruits (under optimal growth) compared to lime trees.Lime trees produce smaller fruits compared to lemons.
Lemon tree leaves are smooth and elongated with smooth edges.Lime tree leaves are rough, heart-shaped with serrated edges.
Lemon fruits turn bright yellow when ripe.Lime fruits appear green to pale yellow when ripe.
Lemon fruits have a thick, coarse-textured skin.Lime fruits have a thin, smooth-textured skin.
Lemon juice is less sour compared to lime juice.Lime juice is slightly bitter compared to lemon juice.

Both lemon and lime trees are some of the citrus trees with thorns, but they can be grown indoors because they’re easy to care for.

Lemon identification features

Lemons are large, succulent, oval-shaped fruits that have numerous health benefits. Unlike some members of the citrus family (like oranges and tangerines), lemons exhibit a sour taste when pressed for their juice. However, you can look for additional characteristics to help you distinguish lemons from other similar-looking fruits

Here are some unique lemon tree identification features:

Tree size, leaf color, and shape

Lemon trees can grow to heights of about 20 ft under optimal conditions. However, the average height of your lemon tree also depends on its variety, potting size, and a few other factors.

(Video) How Is a Lemon Tree Different From a Lime Tree?

Meyer lemon trees have an average height of 6-10 ft. Other varieties such as Eureka, Verna, and Primofiori can grow slightly taller and have a height average of 10 – 20 ft.

Lemons grown for indoor use are generally shorter compared to those grown outdoors. Some species have thorns on their twigs coupled with dark evergreen leaves. The leaves have a lighter shade on the underside.

The leaves have an elongated oval shape and grow in an alternating pattern. Young lemon tree leaves often appear red but later change color to light green as the plant matures.

People regularly prune lemon trees to control their height, especially when growing the plant for ornamental purposes.

Fruit shape and size

Lemon fruits have several variations in fruit shape and size. Some lemon trees such as the Baramasi ( Citrus limon L. Burm) have round-shaped fruits, while others have oval-like features accentuated by a slight bulge on the bottom.

On average, a lemon fruit is about 2’-3’ in size. However, fruit size depends on additional factors including the lemon tree variety, growing conditions, crop load, etc. Some species of lemon produce many small fruits while others have larger fruits but in smaller quantities.

Lemon trees bloom at least once a year during spring to display white flowers with occasional shades of pink or purple (depending on the species).Eureka Lemons, for instance, produce fruit during late winter or early spring after an extensive fruit development cycle. Some types of lemon trees can bloom up to four times a year when grown under optimal conditions.

The slight bulge at the bottom of a lemon is a unique feature that can help you differentiate lemons from other citrus fruits. Some lemon fruits contain small seeds (9.5mm) similar in shape and size to other citrus trees, while others produce seedless fruits.

Fruit color, skin texture

Lemon fruits are distinguishable from oranges, tangerines, and other citrus tree species by their fruit color and skin texture.

(Video) How to Prune a Lemon Tree Using Tree Science as a Guide

Lemon fruits appear green when unripe and change color to a bright yellow once the fruit ripens. The trees reach maturity after 6 years, after which the plant starts producing fruit. The fruits develop in the summer months (after the spring bloom) and ripen during late fall or winter.

Lemons have a thick, outer skin and a succulent pulp. Their epicarp contains numerous oil glands that give lemons their characteristic aroma. Most lemon tree fruits have 8-10 differentiated segments within the fruit. Some fruits have a juicy pulp while other species produce very little juice.

Lime tree identification features

Lime trees have unique physical features that make it easy to distinguish between a lime tree and other members of the citrus family.

You can use some of the key identification features of lime trees (and fruits) to help you correctly identify a lime tree from, say, a Meyer lemon tree, by considering characteristics such as the fruit size, color, tree size, etc.

Here are some unique lime tree identification features:

Tree Size, leaf Shape and color

Lime trees can grow to heights of up to 20 ft. under optimal conditions. However, most lime trees have an average height of 12 -13 Ft. Factors such as the tree variety, growing region, and potting conditions also affect the height of your lime tree.

Lime tree leaves have an average size of 2-3 inches. The trees have thin branches with sharp spines about 1 ½“ long in some varieties of lime like the Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix). The plant has dark green, heart-shaped leaves with slightly serrated edges and a rough texture.

Lime trees grown indoors appear shorter because of limitations in growing space, regular pruning, and a preference for the shorter varieties for ornamental purposes.

Fruit shape and size

Limes vary in shape and size depending on the tree species, environmental conditions, soil quality, etc.

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On average, a lime fruit is about 1-1.5 inches in diameter. The fruit also appears ovular (some lime species have spherical-shaped fruits) accentuated by a small protrusion on one side of the fruit. Fruit production happens at least once a year although you might find some species that produce fruits twice or more times a year.

Blooming, flower color and size

Lime trees are flowering plants that bloom during spring and other warm months of the year. The trees produce small, numerous white-yellow flowers during the active blooming season.

It can take 3-6 years for lime trees to mature and start producing flowers. Sometimes your lime trees might produce flowers without producing fruits because of several issues.

A key reason could be that your plant is only just maturing and has not developed into fruit production. In most cases, you notice the leaves and flowers begin to fall off after they are fully mature without producing fruit. The condition is a normal part of lime tree growth and is more evident in juvenile trees before full maturity.

Fruit color and skin texture

Unripe limes have a characteristic green color on the exterior but may occasionally turn pale yellow on ripening. The fruits have a thin epicarp with a smooth, firm sensation when slightly squeezed.

The epicarp is rich in aromatic compounds that give limes their characteristic citrus smell. You may also notice a green hue in the fruit’s succulent layer depending on the species of the lime tree. Some fruits contain seeds while others have seedless features (although it depends on the plant’s variations).


Jonathan H. Crane, Growing ‘tahiti’ Limes In The Home Landscape


How do I identify a lime tree? ›

Key Lime (Citrus x aurantiifolia)

The leaves are ovate, one to three inches long, resembling orange leaves. The flowers, one inch in diameter, are yellowish white with a light purple tinge on the edges. Flowers and fruit appear throughout the year but are most abundant from May to September.

How do you tell if a tree is a lemon tree? ›

Lemon trees usually have dark green leaves with light green undersides; the leaves tend to have fine-tooth edges, are elliptical in shape, and grow close together. The fruit is oval, anywhere from 2-4 inches long, and bright yellow when ripe.

Do lemons and limes come off the same tree? ›

Also known as a cocktail tree, the lemon lime tree is an incredible plant: it grows both lemons and limes!

Do lemon or lime trees have thorns? ›

Lime and lemon trees are both members of genus Citrus and many of them have thorns. However, the presence of thorns on lime and lemon trees is natural and no cause for alarm.

What does lemon tree leaves look like? ›

Lemon leaves are small to medium in size and are ovate, oblong, and taper to a point on the non-stem end. The vibrant green leaves grow alternately along the branches, and they have fine-toothed edges with a slight rippling. There is also a prominent central stem with some small veins spreading throughout the leaf.

How do I identify a lemon plant? ›

Identifying Lemon Trees

Oval, serrated lemon tree leaves are between 2 1/2 and 4 1/2 inches long. The petioles, or stem that attaches the leaf to the branch, is slender. Immature leaves are reddish but turn light green as they mature. Small, white flowers with pale purple undersides grow from reddish buds.

Why do my lemons look like limes? ›

Your lemons may not yet be fully ripe. So just wait a bit longer. Depending on your climate and local conditions, lemons can take up to 9 months or longer to ripen! My trees often produce so much fruit, we're still using them from last season while the tree is producing new season flowers.

What are the early stages of a lemon tree? ›

To Sum Up. The lemon tree growth stages are quite straightforward — the seeds germinate, little sprouts grow into seedlings, seedlings mature and start producing flowers, which eventually turn into delicious lemons!

Do limes turn into lemons when they turn yellow? ›

Sweet limes might be mistaken for lemons since they are yellow when ripe and ready to use. They have less acid than Tahitian or Key. They are popular in India, Vietnam, Egypt, and along the Mediterranean coast. Limes are yellow when they are fully ripe and develop sugars that make them delicious at this stage.

Are lemons limes before they turn yellow? ›

It's green, right - that's how you can tell it apart from a lemon? Not so! You may be surprised to learn that the green limes we are so familiar on the store shelves are not fully ripe. A lime that is left on the tree to ripen will turn yellow.

Is my tree a lime tree? ›

Look at the leaves. When the flowers are in bloom, the flowers of a lemon tree will have purple blush, while the flowers of a lime tree have white blush. Also, most lemon tree leaves will be larger in size than lime trees, ranging from 4 to 5 inches in length. Most lime tree leaves are no more than 3 inches long.

Should I cut the thorns off a lime tree? ›

Hi Chizu, numerous citrus have thorns, this is very common and does not affect the fruiting ability of the plant. They can be cut off at any time of the year if need be.

What do thorns on a lemon tree mean? ›

The presence of thorns on citrus trees has evolved for exactly the same reason that animals such as hedgehogs and porcupines sport prickly hides– protection from predators, specifically, hungry animals that want to nibble away at the tender leaves and fruit.

Do lemon trees with thorns produce fruit? ›

But, lemon trees also have thorny branches that can be just as sharp as a rose bush. Unlike flowers, lemon fruit trees bear fruit, and the fruit itself can be easily removed from the thorny branches. Not all lemon trees have thorns; some hybrid species have been grown to produce little to no thorns.

Why does my lemon tree have lemons but no leaves? ›

A: Citrus tend naturally to drop some leaves during blossoming and fruit formation, but the tree should not drop the majority of its leaves during this time. Some common causes of leaf drop include high heat and wind, nutrient deficiencies, overly dry or salty soils.

Is it OK to eat lemon tree leaves? ›

Though lemon leaves (leaves from a lemon tree) are non-toxic, they still are not usually eaten. They do have a couple of uses in cooking: Arrange alongside cakes (like our Lemon Curd Layer Cake) as a garnish. Use as a bed for grilling, or to wrap meat or fish for grilling.

What does a wild lime tree look like? ›

General description: Woody, evergreen and often multi-stemmed tree with compound leaves, sharp thorns, and clusters of small, yellow-green flowers.

What fruit looks like a lime but isn t? ›

The fruit of the calamansi resembles a small, round lime, usually 25–35 mm (1–1+3⁄8 in) in diameter, but sometimes up to 45 mm (1+3⁄4 in). The center pulp and juice is the orange color of a tangerine with a very thin orange peel when ripe. Each fruit contains 8 to 12 seeds.

What does a wild lime look like? ›

Wild lime flowers are tiny, yellow to yellowish-green, and born in clusters that emerge from the leaf axils. Leaves are pinnately compound with a winged midrib. They are alternately arranged.

What lime tree has thorns? ›

Some of the most common citrus trees that sport thorns are Meyer lemon, most grapefruits, and key limes.

What lime tree has no thorns? ›

The Thornless Key Lime Tree is the most popular lime tree grown in North America. Amidst dense, evergreen foliage, small buds produce pure white, fragrant blossoms. The tree bears fruit with a very thin rind and flavorful, juicy fruit throughout the year.

Where do lime trees grow naturally? ›

Wild limes probably originated in the Indonesian archipelago or the nearby mainland of Asia. Arabian traders may have taken limes, as well as lemons, from India to the eastern Mediterranean countries and Africa about 1000 ce.

Do all lime trees bear fruit? ›

Answer: The main issue with your lime tree is age. We give citrus trees five years to settle in and mature after planting. During that time production of fruit is often lacking or erratic. So, lack of fruit production is typical for a tree planted three years ago.

What two fruits make a lime? ›

Plants known as "lime"

The majority of cultivated species are in reality hybrids, produced from the citron (Citrus medica), the mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata), the pomelo (Citrus maxima) and in particular with many lime varieties, the micrantha (Citrus hystrix var. micrantha).

What are the tiny limes called? ›

The Key lime is smaller, seedier, has higher acidity, stronger aroma, and thinner rind than the Persian lime (Citrus × latifolia). It is valued for its characteristic flavor. The name comes from its association with the Florida Keys, where it is best known as the flavoring ingredient in Key lime pie.

Why do lime trees not fruit? ›

Hi Anne, reasons for poor cropping can include lack of pollination, pests, disease, poor nutrition, lack of watering, or growing with too much vegetative growth from excessive nitrogen - this could be the issue for you as the leaf growth is lush and green.

Do limes look like lemons? ›

Limes are small, round, and green, while lemons are usually larger, oval-shaped, and bright yellow. Nutritionally, they're almost identical and share many of the same potential health benefits. Both fruits are acidic and sour, but lemons tend to be sweeter, while limes have a more bitter flavor.

How do I know if my lime tree will bear fruit? ›

Lime trees typically need at least 3 to 4 years to bear fruit, depending on the size of your tree at purchase. They also need ideal growing conditions, including plenty of sunlight, adequate moisture and well-draining soil. Trees moved outside for the summer are most likely to bear fruit.

What does fresh lime look like? ›

It's green, right - that's how you can tell it apart from a lemon? Not so! You may be surprised to learn that the green limes we are so familiar on the store shelves are not fully ripe. A lime that is left on the tree to ripen will turn yellow.


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