Satsuma in your Stocking

Satsumas with their recognisably loose skins. © Karen Andrews

I regularly found a Satsuma in the bottom of my Christmas stocking as a child. Evidently, Father Christmas did not want me to overindulge in sweets. I have only recently discovered why the fruit has such a strong Christmas association. The Satsuma is sometimes even called the Christmas Orange. Do you know the Christmas story behind the custom? It is not simply a matter of Christmas availability.

St Nicholas

St Nicholas was a Turkish Christian bishop noted for helping the needy. (Legend later transformed him into the Santa Claus figure). It came to St Nicholas’s attention that a man was struggling to find husbands for his three daughters because he had no money for their dowries. He visited their home one night and dropped three sacks of gold down the chimney. The girls had left their washed stockings beside the fire to dry. One bag of gold fell into each of the girls’ stockings. Thus, a satsuma in your Christmas stocking represents a bag of gold.

Satsumas are easy to peel. © Karen Andrews

Reasons for Popularity

Satsumas are popular for the ease with which they can be peeled. The British public does not like finicky fruit. Satsumas score extra brownie points for generally being seedless, as well as offering a sweet flavour. The winter bonus is that they are a good source of vitamin C against seasonal illnesses.

Telling Apart

Telling your Clementines, Tangerines and Satsumas apart can pose a problem. The first two tend to be more rounded. I recognise a Satsuma by its somewhat flattened, baggy base. Its skin does not quite seem to fit. That is why it is so much easier to peel, divide into segments and pop into your mouth.

What’s the Correct Botanical Name?

Citrus taxonomy is complicated and seemingly still disputed by the experts. The Citrus genus forms part of the Rutaceae. Satsumas are a form of Mandarin described as a small sort of loose-skinned Orange. They evolved from Citrus reticulata. The Japanese developed them back in the 16th century. They are often given the botanical name of Citrus unshiu. However, consulting Kew’s Plants of the World Online, I discovered that that name is considered a synonym of Citrus deliciosa. I looked up Citrus reticulata and found that it too was considered a synonym Citrus x aurantium. Now confused about the correct Latin name, I shall throw in the towel. I shall nonetheless happily continue to enjoy this seasonal fruit with its vernacular name from the Japanese region of Satsuma.

References and Further Reading


Karen does not seek or receive any commercial interest or advantage from this blog. She is not promoting any business venture. She simply loves to share fascinating facts about plants. These pages illustrate her love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. This blog is designed as a showcase for photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics. Viewpoints are her own, not those of her employer.

All above photos © Karen Andrews

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