National Geographic : 1951 Sep
Gold Flows from Orange Groves T HE orange industry, in the past half century, has undergone one of the most astounding booms in the history of agricul ture. In 1900 oranges were a luxury in most of the United States, a Christmas treat or a dessert for special occasions. Today oranges are for sale in every cross roads store the year round. Orange juice is a regular part of the breakfast of most chil dren and many adults. In tons produced, in dollar volume, and in popular taste, oranges are our leading fruit. Most recent increase has come in the pro duction of frozen, concentrated juice. From almost nothing before World War II, frozen orange juice has grown into a $100,000,000 a-year business using about one-fourth of our total crop of some 4,000,000 tons a year. Oranges, Too, Got Their Start in Asia The native home of the orange is south China and Indochina. From there it has spread to every part of the world which has a suitable climate. The orange tree will with stand only a few degrees of frost. Tempera tures of 25° F. will cause some injury to the trees, and temperatures below 20° will cause severe injury or death. The oranges of the world are classed in three principal kinds, each with many varie ties. The most important, both in the United States and in most other countries, is the sweet orange, Citrus sinensis. These oranges are relatively sweet, generally round to oval in shape, and the peel adheres rather tightly to the pulp, or flesh. The mandarin oranges, C. reticulata, have thin, loose skin that separates very readily from the pulp. The segments of the pulp also separate easily. These can be further classed as the tangerines, having dark, orange red peel, and the satsumas, having lighter, yellow peel. The mandarin oranges are the kinds most extensively grown in China and Japan. The third group, the sour or bitter oranges, C. aurantium, has fruits too sour and bitter for eating out of hand. They are used for making marmalade and for ade drinks in some countries. Sweet and mandarin oranges have undoubt edly been eaten in south China since the country was inhabited. References to oranges in Chinese writing date back to about 2200 B. c. Their spread to other countries, how ever, was relatively slow. The sweet orange is not mentioned in European writing until after the beginning of the 15th century. As with the lemon (page 356), Columbus carried seed of the sweet orange when he sailed in 1493 to establish a settlement on Hispaniola. The orange flourished there; early in the 16th century it was taken to Mexico and Central America. It was planted in Florida when St. Augus tine was settled in 1565. It may have reached Florida even earlier, but there is no definite record to this effect. Two centuries later, settlers found many wild orange groves, spread by seed from early plantings, in central Florida. These were growing about the lakes and, particularly, where there had been Indian villages. One such wild grove, described in 1764, was 40 miles long. Not until Florida became a part of the United States in 1821, however, did a commercial industry start. The sweet orange reached California with the establishment of the mission at San Diego in 1769, and was carried to other missions as they were established. A planting of some 400 trees at the Mission of San Gabriel about 1804 represented the first sizable citrus or chard in the State. The mandarin oranges, outranking the sweet oranges in popularity in China and Japan, did not reach Europe until 1805. By 1850 they were well known in Mediterranean countries. The first recorded introduction into the United States was by the Italian consul at New Orleans, who planted Chinese mandarins there between 1840 and 1850. Research workers of the United States De partment of Agriculture have crossed sweet oranges and tangerine oranges, the crosses being known as tangors. Such crosses also have occurred naturally and are among the most delicious of our citrus fruits. Florida Raises Most Oranges Today, Florida leads the world in orange production. California is a close second, fol lowed by Texas, Arizona, Louisiana, and Mis sissippi. In Florida and California, orange produc tion is highly organized and strongly com petitive. Both States have laws regulating the maturity, quality, and even the sweetness of oranges sold. To prevent diseases and molds which result from damaged skins, the fruit is picked by skilled workers, often wear ing soft cloth gloves. Long conveyor belts may then carry the ripe oranges through suc cessive washings in soap and water, borax solu tion, and clean water. Mechanical brushes scrub them as they go through the bath; then they are dried in wind tunnels. Some are even coated with wax for additional protection. Grading the fruit, wrapping them in tissue paper, and packing are done by hand. Spain, Brazil, China, Japan, Italy, and Palestine are heavy orange producers; in fact, all tropical and subtropical countries produce considerable quantities.