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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Although no part of New Zealand is actually “subtropical”, the climate is mild enough in much of the Auckland Province to produce successfully certain kinds of citrus and other subtropical fruits. Early European settlers introduced these plants. The earliest record is of a few sweet-orange pips brought from Sydney by the wife of James Kemp, one of the missionary party which arrived at Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, in August 1818. From these seeds Mrs Kemp raised two trees which survived for more than 100 years, one at Kerikeri and the other at Waimate North. As the colony grew, there were many more introductions of various kinds of citrus, and between 1875 and 1880 the first commercial citrus orchards were planted, the largest being at Whangarei. Today a relatively small but useful citrus industry, closely associated with the production of certain other subtropical fruits, is established at Kerikeri, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and Gisborne. Enough lemons and grapefruit are now grown for the local market during the season, but large amounts of sweet oranges and mandarins still have to be imported each year from the Cook Islands, Australia, and other countries.

Varieties of Citrus

The main kinds of citrus grown commercially in New Zealand include “Lisbon” and “Eureka” type lemons, “Meyer” lemons, so-called New Zealand grapefruit (“Poorman” orange, selected strains), “Wheeny” grapefruit, sweet oranges (mainly navels), mandarins, and tangelos (mandarin/grapefruit hybrids). Successful use of Poncirus trifoliata as a rootstock for citrus trees has made it possible to produce oranges and mandarins of consistently high quality under the marginal local climate; hence the planting of these fruits has been encouraged. This trend is expected to continue and there may be many more local oranges and mandarins in future.

Other Fruits

Many other subtropical fruits have been introduced and are often grown as novelties in home gardens. Commercial production is concerned mainly with two kinds of fruit which are not cultivated on a large commercial scale elsewhere in the world, even in their countries of origin – the tree tomato, Cyphomandra crassifolia (Syn. C. betacea), a native of Brazil and Peru, and the Chinese gooseberry, Actinidia chinensis, which originates from the Yangtse Valley in China. Passionfruit, Passiflora edulis, feijoas, Feijoa sellowiana, and avocados, Persea americana, are also grown commercially.

Estimated Acreage and Production of Citrus and Other Subtropical Fruits in New Zealand for 1963
Variety Acres Production
Lemons (Lisbon and Eureka types) 278 100,000
Lemons (Meyer) 58 20,000
Sweet oranges* 450 24,000
New Zealand grapefruit 284 169,000
Wheeny grapefruit 42 13,000
Mandarins* 123 9,000
Tangelos* 25 1,000
Total, citrus 1,260 336,000
Chinese gooseberries 184 440
Passionfruit 65 90
Tree tomatoes 377 1,150
Total, other subtropical fruits 626 1,680

*Many recent plantings of these varieties are not yet bearing.


The New Zealand Citrus Marketing Authority at present markets the oranges and lemons. It is a growers' cooperative, set up by the Citrus Marketing Authority Regulations of 1953, and it sells fruit to Fruit Distributors Ltd. at agreed prices. Other citrus and subtropical fruits are sold by auction or by growers direct to buyers. Strong competition for world markets from many other countries more ideally suited for citrus growing makes it unlikely that citrus fruits will become an important New Zealand export. But Chinese gooseberries, which grow very well here, show considerable export promise. Small annual shipments of up to 50 tons have been well received in Britain, Australia, and North America, and more are likely to be exported in future.

by William Arthur Fletcher, B.SC., formerly Senior Scientific Officer, Fruit Research Division, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.

  • D.S.I.R. Bulletin No. 53 (1937), “A Preliminary Survey of the Citrus Industry in New Zealand”, Hamilton, W. M.