Natural adaptations to growing conditions include sharp thorns found on younger, smaller plants as a natural defence from grazing animals, and the ability to withstand drought by shedding leaves. These upward facing leaves are slender and blue-grey in colour with white flowers appearing in spring.
Citrus glauca is the quickest citrus species in the world to set fruit after flowering. Ripening in summer, the small rounded fruit are light yellow-green when mature, with a thin porous rind and piquant lime flavour.
Desert lime is sold in both domestic and international markets, and is favoured by the food service industry. It has a wide variety of culinary uses and is also used in the manufacture of cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Traditionally collected in the wild by Indigenous Australians, the desert lime has high levels of vitamin C, folates and antioxidants. Early settlers used the fruit in traditional citrus recipes like jams, tarts, jellies, preserves and cordials.
Growers of Desert Limes usually grow other species of native foods and other citrus which helps to spread income risk. Australian native foods growers are represented by Australian Native Food & Botanicals (ANFAB).
Facts and figures
- Desert lime is one of several true citrus species native to Australia
- Endemic to south west Queensland, western New South Wales and a small area of South Australia, desert limes are cultivated commercially across Australia
- The plant can withstand extreme temperature variation, from -12°C to 45°C
- Desert lime trees are tolerant of heat, frost, drought and salinity
Established in the early 1990s, the desert lime industry is dominated by a single large plantation (32 hectares) in south west Queensland, and with additional supply by wild harvest (constrained by severe and widespread drought since the mid-2000s) and production from smaller blocks in the eastern regions of southern Queensland (which are orchards established using plants from the large plantation).
In order for the desert lime industry to move from niche to commercial production, particularly as development of products such as desert lime puree broadens its market appeal in the food service industry, larger scale plantations are needed to remove the reliance on wild harvest.
Key production regions for desert lime are based throughout Australia. In Queensland, desert limes are produced at Townsville and from Winton through to Roma. Other production regions include western New South Wales, Victoria and Port Augusta in South Australia, and more recently, in south west Western Australia.