How Did The Navel Orange Originate?
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Posted on 28 Sep 2016 21:22

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If you've eaten an orange lately there is a very good chance it was a navel orange. Navel oranges are the most popular eating oranges in the world. They are large, sweet and juicy but not too juicy. They have a crisp texture and are easy to peel. They are also seedless. What's not to love?

Although many navel oranges are grown in California and Florida, the fruit probably originated in Bahia, Brazil.

Brazil is still the largest orange-producing country in the world, producing well over 20 million tons a year.

The exact origin of the navel orange is shrouded and many different stories are told by Brazilian orange growers. However, it seems likely that the variety originated as a mutation of a laranja selecta orange tree sometime around 1820. In fact, the navel orange is very similar to the Selecta orange and although rare, sometimes a "navel" appears on its fruits. This A navel sometimes, but very rarely, will appear on mandarin oranges.navel is a rudimentary second fruit which develops at the apex of the main fruit, and from the outside resembles a human navel or bellybutton. For this reason, it was given the name "umbigo de Selecta" in Brazil or "navel Selecta."

As a mutant, seedless variety, navel oranges cannot be grown without grafting a branch from a navel orange tree onto another tree. This means that all navel oranges today originate from a single Brazilian tree.


navel-oranges.jpg

Navel oranges with navel visible.
Image by Allentchang via wikipediaImage Credit

navel-oranges.jpg

Navel oranges with navel visible.
Image by Allentchang via wikipediaImage Credit



Navel oranges were approved for production in the United States in 1870. The U.S. Department of Agriculture obtained cuttings from a navel orange tree in Bahia, and William Saunders, then superintendent of gardens for USDA sent two young trees to Eliza Tibbets, noted spiritualist, rights activist, and suffragette in Riverside, California. The trees were planted in 1873 and began producing fruit in 1875. Three years later these navel oranges won first prize at the Southern California Horticultural Fair.

Although orange, lemon, and lime trees had been grown in Riverside since 1871 and had expanded rapidly, this first navel orange, known as the Washington navel orange due to its government origins, did extremely well: It was seedless, sweet, and, perhaps more importantly, it ripened during the mild California winter. As well, since it was not planted from seeds, as were earlier orange trees, the oranges were dependably similar to one another instead of being diverse and lacking uniformity. As news of the new trees spread, they became so popular that Tibbets was able to sell budstock for five dollars a bud, an extravagant amount. The navel made Riverside the leader in California citrus industry and became the foundation of California citrus industry itself, as well as that of Arizona. Soon, Navel oranges were being shipped in by railroad to the rest of the country.

One of the original Riverside trees was transplanted from the Tibbet's yard to the Mission Inn, in 1903. President Theodore Roosevelt, who was staying at the hotel durig a tour of the city, was there to dedicate the tree, as shown in the image below. This tree later died, in 1921.


original-navel-orange-tree.jpg

President Roosevelt during the replanting of one of the original
Riverside navel orange trees, in front of the Mission Inn, c. 1903

original-navel-orange-tree.jpg

President Roosevelt during the replanting of one of the original
Riverside navel orange trees, in front of the Mission Inn, c. 1903



The image below shows the Mission Inn tree in 1910.


mission-navel-orange-tree-1910
mission-navel-orange-tree-1910



The other of the two trees, known as the "Mother tree" survived on, having been transplanted to the corner of Arlington and Magnolia Avenue. This tree has had an eventful life, escaping death through the dedicated efforts of its caretakers. The tree started showing signs of decline at around the same time as the Mission tree, did. The cause was a disease called Phytophthora root rot or gummosis. A technique called inarching, which replaces the root system through a grafting process, was used to save the tree.

In 2014 the tree was threatened again, this time by the spread of the Asian citrus psyllid, which carry a bacteria called huang long bing, translating more or less into "the yellow shit disease."

To protect the tree, a buffer zone was created by removing any citrus trees from the surrounding area and enclosing the tree inside a mesh shield to keep the insects out.

Ironically, today's navel orange crop in Brazil to the Washington navel. In the 1930's, a disease wiped out all the Brazilian navel orange trees and Washington sent cuttings of a Tibbets navel tree to Brazil as a goodwill gesture.

Since the Washington navel, many varieties of navel orange have been produced, in including the Cara Cara orange, a navel orange with ruby-red flesh and a very sweet taste, more similar to the tangerine. It arose from a natural mutation of a Washington navel, discovered in 1976 at Hacienda Cara Cara in Venezuela.

© 2016 by Eric Troy and CulinaryLore. All Rights Reserved. Please contact for permissions.