Ever-Bearing Key Lime Introduced in Fairy-Tale Fashion

Ever-Bearing Key Lime Introduced in Fairy-Tale Fashion

The ever-bearing key lime is a small citrus that can be grown in a container like the one in the photo at the Sarian Farm in Teresa, Rizal

By Zac B. Sarian

It took a rice scientist to introduce the ever-bearing key lime in the Philippines. The key lime is a great addition to our small citrus with commercial value and we have to thank Dr. Benito S. Vergara for that.

Dr. Vergara was a retired rice scientist from the International Rice Research Institute, and was subsequently declared a National Scientist. After his retirement he was convinced by former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Dr. Bart Lapus of Mama Sita Foundation to undertake a project titled, “Collection, Evaluation and Utilization of Some Marketable Fruits and Spices.” This was a five-year project that officially started in 2007 and ended in 2011.

The project was funded with a budget of P1,000,000 to P3,000,000 from the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCAARRD), P1,000,000 from the Bureau of Agricultural Research of the DA, and another P1,000,000 from the Mama Sita Foundation. Actually, MSF disbursed more than P1,000,000 to meet expenses that were not budgeted for the gardeners and miscellaneous items.

Early on, Dr. Vergara could not find varieties that were already in the Philippines that could be developed for commercial production and marketing. So he proceeded to Thailand where he was able to obtain planting materials that are now proven worthwhile promoting in the Philippines like the Luz calamansi which has few seeds, the Mama Sita banana which performs well under local conditions, and others.

What Dr. Vergara considered as some sort of a fairy tale was how he was able to obtain, propagate, and disseminate the key lime, an ever-bearing small citrus that has found its home in the Florida Keys. However, it had long been produced in Mexico and other central American states and never in the Philippines. Key lime provides the special flavor and aroma in key lime pies, cakes, and other desserts. If added to water for drinking, it is reported in Wikipedia that the citric acid in the lime juice helps burn calories and stores less fat. So it is good for dieters.

Why did Dr. Vergara consider as some kind of fairy tale the coming of key lime in the Philippines? Well, he never expected it. It happened that his niece from Florida, Verna Eve Vergara Velasco came to visit her family in the Philippines. She brought with her several branches of the ever-bearing key lime. Dr. Vergara took the buds from the axil of the leaves and budded them to the calamandarin rootstock plants. A total of 29 budded plants were produced, which Dr. Vergara immediately multiplied as fast as possible.

We were among the first to acquire some of the budded plants, which we also multiplied in our farm in Teresa, Rizal. The plants grew without problem and produced juicy fruits. One of our buyers, Dr. Rene Sumaoang, was also able to produce fruiting key lime in Tarlac. He reports that squeezing the juice over grilled tilapia is really great. Another customer from southern Luzon who had bought over a hundred mother plants had resorted to bottling key lime juice, giving us a sample for tasting. It was good.

On his part, Dr. Vergara in his terminal report stated that key lime drink with a drop of gin or vodka is excellent. He also acknowledged in the said report, “Mr. Zac Sarian whose articles about the project had elicited reactions/actions from his many readers and literally spreading our selected cultivars all over the Philippines.” The articles were published in The Manila Bulletin, Agriculture Magazine, Panorama, and the vernacular magazines published like Liwayway, Bannawag, Bisaya, and Hiligaynon (now defunct).