The fruit itself is kind of ugly, about the size of a baseball, with a rough peel and a bump on top. The name Dekopon is derived from the Japanese words for bumpy (deko) and ponkan (deko + pon = Dekopon). But appearances can be deceiving! I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it’s the ‘Honeycrisp’ of mandarins, but it is an amazing variety; easy to peel, juicy, sweet, a rich complex flavor, and commercially seedless! A fruit can be marketed as “commercially” seedless as long as is has less than five seeds per fruit....not exactly seedless.... BUT the Dekopon IS practically seedless! The delicious flavor, zipper-skin peel, and near complete seedlessness have made the Sumo one of the most sought after varieties for citrus enthusiasts.
Unfortunately for hobby growers like myself the rights to propagation of the Dekopon is still tightly controlled by the corporation that introduced it to the United States in 2011, and with the citrus greening quarantines in California, Texas, and Florida, obtaining budwood is nearly impossible. The Texas A&M Citrus Center does offer budwood of a variety they call Shiranui, which may or may not be Dekopon, but when I contacted them earlier this month I was told that they were completely out for the next 10-12 weeks! So what is a citrus enthusiast to do?
The Dekopon my be nearly seedless, but it’s not completely seedless. Every once in awhile a viable can be found. Back in 2013 I went through a bunch of fruit hoping to find a seed, but had no luck. I had given up on growing this variety, until I recently learned that Houston-area fruit tree expert Bill Arendt had grown a Dekopon from seed, and that it had fruited for him after six years. After hearing that I was inspired, and stopped by HEB on my way home from work and bought 10 Sumos. They looked terrible, over-ripe, and definitely not worth the cost for the fruit....but maybe worth it for seed! I peeled and sectioned all 10 of the fruit, and carefully went through each one searching for seeds.
JACKPOT!! In the second fruit I found a big fat seed, and later another one! Two seeds in 10 fruit! I immediately washed the seeds well in warm water, and planted them in a mini-terrarium made from a 2L soda bottle. I learned this method of germinating citrus seeds from J. Stewart Nagle’s book Citrus for the Gulf Coast, and have had great success with it. Six years may seem like a long time to wait on a seedling to fruit, but they way I see it, the next six years will pass whether I plant seeds or not, so I may as well plant them. Time flies, in just a few years I could be tasting my first homegrown Dekopon!