Mexican Orange Plant Profile

The blooms on the Mexican orange do smell like orange blossoms

nordique/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

A native of the southern regions of North America through Mexico, there is little doubt how the Mexican orange came by its name. The attractive white flowers of this shrub not only produce a distinct orange scent but are similar in appearance to the blossoms found on the orange plant.

The dense bushy growth of the Mexican orange, coupled with the glossy foliage, makes it a popular ornamental plant. As an added bonus, the leaves are also fragrant. A popular cultivar of this species is ‘Sundance,’ which produces bright golden yellow foliage on new shoots, turning yellow-green as the leaves mature.

Butterflies and honeybees are particularly fond of the flowers and abundant nectar produced by this shrub. Not surprisingly, both the standard Mexican orange and the cultivar ‘Sundance’ were given the prestigious Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Award of Garden Merit.

The botanical name for the Mexican orange is Choisya ternata. The genus was named after a Swiss botanist, Jacques Denys Choisy. Most commonly known as the Mexican orange, this species is also called the Mexican orange blossom, Mexican orange flower, and mock orange.

Mexican orange is an evergreen, with foliage that remains dark green during all seasons. The leaves are arranged in a palmate fashion with three leaflets. When crushed, the leaves produce a pleasant fragrance that some compare to basil, while others describe it as citrusy. The ‘Sundance’ cultivar has golden-colored foliage.

White star-shaped flowers appear in three- to six-inch-long corymbs during the spring and often again in the autumn. The orange-scented flowers turn into a fruit that is neither showy nor edible, composed of a leathery capsule with two to six sections.

Botanical Name Choisya ternata
Common Name Mexican orange
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size Six to eight feet in height and width
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Fertile, well-drained
Soil pH Slightly acidic
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 7–10
Native Area Mexico

How to Grow Mexican Orange Plants

This shrub grows in a dense rounded shape that reaches six to eight feet in height and width. Initially, it is fast-growing but it slows over time. Its maximum size is reached in 10 to 20 years.

The dense growth of this shrub makes it ideal as a hedge plant, as a border, or as a foundation plant. A single Mexican orange also makes a great focal plant in a garden bed.

Mexican orange is a good companion plant for California lilacGeraniumIris, and Shasta daisy. The glossy green foliage and cut flowers are often harvested for use in floral arrangements.

Mexican orange is susceptible to a few pests, including glasshouse red spider mites and snails.

Light

A full sun to partial shade location is recommended for Mexican orange, but it will grow in full shade as well.

Soil

Soil should be rich, well-draining, and slightly acidic.

Water

Keep moist when first planted, watering deeply to help the shrub establish its root system. Once established, watering should still be deep, but less frequent.

Temperature and Humidity

The preferred USDA zones for Mexican orange are 7–10. It will tolerate a light frost to as much as 27 degrees as long as it has sufficient shelter. This species does not do well with the high nighttime temperatures that sometimes occurs during summer. It should be planted where it will be sheltered from strong winds.

Fertilizer


Fertilize in the spring
with compost or well-rotted manure. New plants will require extra phosphorus to develop a strong root system.

Pruning

Little pruning is required but can be performed to maintain the desired shape and size. Occasionally the shrub will experience dieback of many leaves, and in those cases, it should be cut back. Mexican orange will tolerate being cut back to the ground, if necessary. Some gardeners choose to prune the plant back after flowering to achieve a more formal appearance.

Growing Mexican Orange Plants in Containers

Another great option is to grow this shrub in a container that can be moved to more sheltered locations in cooler climates. When grown in pots, this species may be attacked by Pythium root rot, but is otherwise disease-free. Mexican orange flowers grown in containers will need more frequent watering; plant them in pots with sufficient drainage to keep the roots from rotting.

Propagating Mexican Orange Plants

Mexican orange can be grown from seed or propagated from semi-hardwood cuttings.