The name of Tachibana was bestowed on Agata-no-Inukai no Michiyo by Empress Gemmei in 708. She was the wife of Prince Minu, a descendant of Emperor Bidatsu and mothered Princes Katsuragi and Sai. She later married Fujiwara no Fuhito and bore Kōmyōshi (Empress Kōmyō). In 736, Princes Katsuragi and Sai were given the surname Tachibana, renouncing their imperial family membership. They became Tachibana no Moroe and Tachibana no Sai respectively.
Over the course of the Heian period, they engaged in countless struggles with the Fujiwara family for domination of court politics, and thus essentially for control of the nation; on a number of occasions this developed into outright violent conflict. One of these conflicts was the uprising of Fujiwara no Sumitomo in 939-941. Though the rebellion was ultimately suppressed, the Tachibana family was scattered in the process, and lost much of its power.
Tachibana no Kimiyori (877-941) was among those who pursued Sumitomo to Kyūshū; he settled there and established himself as an official representative of the court. He or his descendants likely gave their name to Tachibana castle, after which the later Tachibana clan of the 14th century onwards was named. Another branch family developed in Iyo province, becoming known as the Iyo Tachibana family. Tachibana Tōyasu, who executed Fujiwara no Sumitomo, was the progenitor of this branch; Kusunoki Masashige, a celebrated pro-Imperial commander of the 14th century, claimed descent from Tōyasu.