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Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Karatachi (Japanese bitter orange)
By LINDA INOKI
Here is a flower that says "look but don't touch!" Every fragrant bloom of the Japanese bitter orange (or trifoliate orange) has a thorn to guard it from delicate mouths or humans' fingers, but bees and butterflies are welcome visitors, and ensure a crop of small oranges in autumn. Despite its English name, this shrub (Poncirus trifoliata) is native to the Korean peninsula and China. Although the fruit is inedible, karatachi is a very useful plant. It is often planted as a hedge, and the aromatic bark, bitter fruit and even the thorns have been used to make traditional herbal medicines. As for the roots, they are a boon to citrus growers. Karatachi is the hardiest member of the citrus family, and shedding its leaves in autumn helps it to survive temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. Consequently, grafting a tender, evergreen orange or lemon onto this tough rootstock not only increases the resulting fruit tree's resistance to cold, but also produces better fruit. Normally, this slow-growing shrub will reach up to about 3 meters in height, but there is a curious dwarf variety that is called "flying dragon," which is a miniature riot of twisting stems and thorns.