Poncirus Trifoliata: Friend or Foe?

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Poncirus trifoliata, also known as hardy orange and trifoliate orange, is occasionally seen in landscapes but is not particularly well-known to the gardening public. With colorful fall fruit and extremely stout and spiny evergreen stems, it does attract attention as a bit of a landscape novelty. Through the years landscapers and gardeners have planted hardy orange as an unusual specimen plant, or as an impenetrable privacy screen. But is hardy orange really a smart choice from an environmental perspective?
Hardy orange was introduced to the U.S. in 1850 or earlier, perhaps as a thorny hedge to confine livestock. In Michael Dirr’s Manual of Woody Landscape Plants, 5th edition (1998), hardy orange was described as having escaped from cultivation near Wrightsville, Georgia; and in the Houston, Texas area. Entire fields had been colonized. A 2014 information note from the Texas Invasive Species Institute described hardy orange as “fully established” throughout Louisiana, prominent in Arkansas and present in over 15 counties in Texas.

Today, a 2021 article from the Extension Foundation cites hardy orange as “an invasive deciduous shrub or small tree”; the NC Invasive Plant Council says that “it is becoming more of a problem in North Carolina;” and the NC Native Plant Society places it in “Rank 2 – Significant Threat” on their invasive plant list.

Evidence is mounting that hardy orange is a plant to avoid. Images below were taken 11/14/21 in Orange County (seriously), Virginia.

Compound leaves, comprised of three leaflets (trifoliate).

Fruit on limb

Fruits are 1.5″ across, and are either glabrous (smooth), or covered with a soft down (as in
this image).