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Satsuma Season on the Alabama Gulf Coast!




Christmas on the Alabama Gulf Coast doesn’t feel like Christmas without fresh, easy to peel satsumas. Growing up, everyone always seemed to have a bowl of them in the kitchen in late Fall and into the holidays. Grabbing one was often associated with an adult saying “y’all take those out on the back porch.” And to have one packed in your lunch box was to be the envy of your classmates.

As a young adult, I would watch for them in the lunch rooms and kitchens of my work places. People that have trees often have so many that their families can’t eat them all, and invariably someone will bring bags or bowls of them to share. Over the years, I’ve come to associate them with the feeling of this season.

Now, my family has a few citrus trees in our backyard, and one of which is a satsuma. My children love watching the tiny green balls no larger than the size of a pea grow into ripe satsumas. Somewhere around the end of Summer, their curiosity always gets the best of them. They pick a green one (much larger at this point), struggle to peel it, scrunch up their noses at the acidity, but insist that it is “good”.

A Brief History on the Gulf Coast

Although oranges were introduced to the gulf coast by a Jesuit missionary near New Orleans around 1700, and some varieties of mandarins were seen in the region as early as the 1840s or 1850s, the satsuma mandarins from Japan were most likely not introduced until the 1870s. Dr. George Rogers Hall sent many Chinese and Japanese plant specimens to New England and Florida in the 1850-1870s. Dr. Hall likely brought the mandarin to Florida after his 1876 trip to Japan. Anna Van Valkenberg, the wife of a US Minister Resident to Japan, is also credited with bringing the Unshu Mikan mandarin to Florida in the 1870s. The Van Valkenbergs called it the “Satsuma” after the Japanese region from which it comes. The fruit’s popularity grew, and it became a major commercial interest on the Gulf Coast from Texas to Florida in the early 1900s.

About Satsumas

I am not any kind of farmer or an expert on citrus, but I grew up on the gulf coast and learned a few things along the way. I’ve also enjoyed doing a bit of research for this piece. The scientific rigor of a blog article including this one is decidedly low, but for anyone as nerdy as me, I’ve linked some articles at the bottom that may be of interest.

Satsumas are unique to our climate. In the US, they can only be grown in subtropical regions of the gulf coast or parts of California. As many people know, citrus plants can not typically tolerate hard freezes. And the fruit of a citrus plant takes many, many months to develop each year. However, satsumas have a shorter ripening season, and are more cold resistant than other citrus. Additionally, they can not tolerate long periods of extreme or dry heat.

Satsumas are grafted to and grown on a rootstock. The trunks and roots of other citrus and citrus tree relatives are more substantial and more hardy than the satsuma trunk. This allows the trees to grow up off the ground to protect the fruit from laying and rotting on the ground. And the thicker trunks and barks of these rootstocks allow the satsuma to tolerate more hard freezes. Additionally, grafting satsumas to a rootstock substantially shortens the number of years needed for maturity.

Satsuma varieties


The Owari satsuma is the oldest and most common variety of satsuma that is still frequently grown in our region. It is said that approximately 1 million trees were imported to the Gulf Coast between 1908-1911 of which the Owari was one of the primary varieties. The fruit is smaller, relatively flat, and ripens in October and November.


The Silverhill variety was developed from the Owari satsumas in the early 1900s. The scandinavian agricultural community in Silverhill Alabama attracted horticulturalist Dr. Oscar Fridolf Eskil Winberg to the area in 1905. It is said that Dr. Winberg imported 58 varieties of Satsumas from China and Japan and experimented with them in his 2,300 tree nursery. One variety proved to be a bit more cold tolerant, and was later named the Silverhill satsuma. The fruit also ripens in October and early November. It is very sweet with low acidity.

Brown Select

After a highly distinguished WWII career, Dr. Ralph Brown became a researcher at the LSU Citrus Station in Port Sulphur Louisiana for over 30 years. One of his citrus varieties “the Brown Select” is an early ripening satsuma in October. Unlike the classic drooping appearance of most citrus trees, the Brown Select is more upright. It is a bit larger and more acidic.

Early St. Ann

The Early St. Ann is a relatively new variety developed by LSU’s Citrus Research Station in the late 90s. It is a bit larger, rounder, and develops earlier in the season (September and October) than some of the other varieties. It is considered “ripe” when it still has a little green on it. A fully orange Early St. Ann may have some bitter (think fermented) notes.

Take home points:

-When selecting fresh satsumas, don’t be afraid of ones with a tiny bit of green left on them. They are the sweetest.

-Use the clippers! The skin is thin and will easily peel off if you try to pick them off the tree.

-Buy a tree from a nursery. Don’t try to grow one from seed or graft it yourself unless you want a pet and not a plant.

-Get some satsumas!


American Society for Horticultural Science

LSU Circular

UF Food and Agricultural Sciences

Florida State Horticultural Society

The Arnold Arboretum of Harvard

Silverhill History

This article from Mobile Bay

This article from


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