Buyers line up for 50 Sugar Belle citrus trees

The Sugar Belle is a fairly new citrus, getting rave reviews for its flavor and hardiness.

The Sugar Belle is a fairly new citrus, getting rave reviews for its flavor and hardiness.

When the Collier Fruit Growers Council announced it had 50 Sugar Belle trees for its sale in February, the line of ready buyers stretched the length of the green at Freedom Park before its fruit tree sale even opened. The trees were gone in less than five minutes.

This week, the council was able to obtain 150 saplings of the Sugar Belle, a sweet, juicy hybrid of a Clementine and a Minneola that has only come on the market in the last two years

And true to its promise to disappointed buyers at the fruit sale, the council offering them to the public at 5:30 p.m. Monday in front of Golden Gate Community Center, 4701 Golden Gate Parkway. That's where the fruit council meets monthly at 7:30 p.m. Cost of each tree is $40.

Sugar Belle, technically a Mandarin, has been making waves as the first <a href="">University of Florida</a>-created citrus variety intended for commercial production.

It's described as a "bold mandarin orange hybrid that ripens in time for the winter holiday market" with "a rich taste and strong aroma, according to UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences plant breeder Fred Gmitter, in his written assessment of the fruit. The new sweet-tart fruit may be best described as a mandarin with a tangy punch.

The fruit also has a patent pending and also is known as LB8-9, and has been in the works since 1985. But the result — its rich flavor — is what has made it so popular, according to Collier Fruit Growers Council board member John Norman, who has been shepherding the purchase of trees for local home growers: "I wish I had one to eat right now."

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