Lee Squires has written about some of the fabulous old trees found at Cave Hill Cemetery for GardenSMART in the past. A new Heritage Foundation has been established there to save the trees, some of which have been standing for 160 years, and are now succumbing to old age. The Heritage Foundation pledges, as one of its goals, to preserve the arboretum setting for generations to come. In this article, read about the orange tree that was outlawed on college campuses during the streaking craze! Anne K Moore
FLYING DRAGON HARDY ORANGE TREE Poncirus trifoliata ‘Flying Dragon’
Lee Squires, Superintendent, Secretary/Treasurer- Cave Hill Cemetery
Secretary- Cave Hill Heritage Foundation
Photograph Anne K Moore
Horticulturists and true “plant geeks” are always on the lookout for unusual plants to add to their collections. The ‘Flying Dragon’ fills the bill quite well, and satisfies one’s quest for the weird and unusual.
In the early days of Cave Hill’s tree planting efforts the parent of the “Flying Dragon” cultivar, the Hardy Orange, was planted as a hedge in the triangle between Sections 4 & 7 on the Main Rd. I was quite amazed when I first saw this plant in fruit during September 1974. A closer inspection revealed some 1 ½” wickedly sharp spines (thorns) on slick green stems. After a quick I.D. session, I uncovered its botanical name, Poncirus trifoliata. The hedge was removed after several harsh, icy winters in the late 1970’s.
The Hardy Orange, also known as the Japanese Bitter Orange or Trifoliate Orange, is hardy from Zones 5 – 9, but prefers Kentucky’s Zone 6. It will survive –20°F.
The bright orange fruit is about the size of a ping-pong ball and is very sour. It is sometimes used as a substitute for lemons, but other than that is not edible.
A native of China, it was introduced to the U.S. horticultural market in 1850. The vigorous hardy rootstock is used in propagation as grafting understock for its sun kissed cousins in the Sunshine State. The leaves are palmately compound with three leaflets comprising the total leaf, hence, Trifoliate Orange. The flowers are white, measure around 2” across, and have a sweet fragrance.
You can use it in the landscape as a barrier hedge, since no one in their right mind will try to cross it, because of the sharp, nearly lethal spines. You can also use it as a singular specimen to add interest. However, I do not recommend it for usage to families with children because of the spines, and possible eye-poking issues. As a matter of fact, I do believe that it was outlawed on college campuses during the 1970’s because of the streaking craze.
The ‘Flying Dragon’ cultivar arrived on the scene around 20 years ago. Because of its introduction, the common variety is no longer used in landscaping. The spines on the ‘Flying Dragon’ are longer than the original species, and have a vicious curve to them. The branches also have an interesting twisted, almost contorted appearance, creating an unusual form in the garden. It is well-suited as a potential bonsai subject. The curving spines and twisting branches reaching skyward reminded the propagator of a mythical dragon in flight.
Cave Hill’s only specimen resides in the parking lot planting at the Administration Office. You can arrange for tours at the website: