The History of Citrus Fruits

Published: 18th February 2010
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sea routes to open trade by ships with China and India. The sweet orange tree introduction into Europe changed the dynamics of citrus fruit importance in the world. The voyage of Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gamma, recorded that in 1498, there were multitudes of orange trees in India, and all the fruits had a sweet taste. The new sweet orange variety, known as the "Portugal orange" caused a dramatic surge in citrus planting, much like the much later appearance of the "Washington navel orange" tree introduction into California.

The lime, Citrus latifolia, was first mentioned in European history by Sir Thomas Herbert in his book, Travels, who recorded that he found growing "oranges, lemons, and limes" off the island of Mozambique in the mid 1600's. Lime trees today are available in many cultivars.

In 1707, Spanish missions were growing oranges, fig trees, quinces, pomegranates, peaches, apricots, apples, pear trees, mulberries, pecans, and other trees according to horticultural documents.

The Mandarin orange, Citrus reticulata, was described in Chinese history in the late 1100's, but was unknown in Europe, until it was brought from a Mandarin province in China to England in 1805, where it spread rapidly throughout Europe.

The pummelo, Citrus grandis, also called the shaddock and the 'Adam's Apple' was growing in Palestine in the early 1200's and was planted and grown by the Arabs. The pummelo is believed to have an Asian origin and was planted as seed in the New World.

The grapefruit, Citrus paradisi, is believed to have arisen as a mutation from the pummelo tree. Grapefruit were so named because they grew in clusters like grapes, but most gardeners considered them to be inedible until A.L. Duncan found an outstanding seedling grapefruit that was named Duncan grapefruit in 1892; the original tree is still alive and growing in Florida.

Christopher Columbus introduced citrus on the island of Haiti in 1493. It is believed that he brought citrus seed to be planted and grown of the sour orange, the sweet orange, citron, lemon, lime, and pummelo fruits. Records show that these citrus trees were well established in the American colonies in about 1565 at Saint Augustine, Florida, and in coastal South Carolina.

William Bartram reported in his celebrated botanical book, Travels, in 1773 that Henry Laurens from Charleston, South Carolina, who served as a President of the Continental Congrees, introduced "olives, limes, ginger, everbearing strawberry, red raspberry, and blue grapes" into the United States colonies after the year 1755.

William Bartram in his book, Travels, reported that near Savannah, Georgia, "it is interesting to note that as late as 1790, oranges were cultivated in some quantity along the coast, and in that year some 3000 gallons of orange juice were exported."

Many of these wild orange groves were seen by the early American explorer, William Bartram, according to his book, Travels, in 1773, while traveling down the Saint John's River in Florida. Bartram mistakenly thought these orange trees were native to Florida; however, they were established centuries earlier by the Spanish explorers.

The citrus industry began rapidly developing in 1821 when the Spanish gave up their territories and its many orange groves to the United States. Wild orange tree groves were top-worked with improved cultivars and residents traveling to Florida realized how refreshing orange juice tasted; thus began the shipments of oranges, grapefruit, limes, and lemons that were sent to Philadelphia and New York by railway and ships in the 1880's.

Citrus plantings were extensively done in California by the Spanish missionaries; however, the commercial industry began to grow with the 1849 Gold Rush boom, and efforts to supply the miners from San Francisco with citrus fruit were successful. The completion of the Transcontinental Railway further stimulated the citrus industry, since citrus could be rapidly sent to eastern markets. Later improvements of refrigeration helped to increase citrus growing and planting, mainly oranges, lemons, and limes throughout the world in 1889.

Florida at first dominated citrus production in the United States, but because of some devastating freezes in 1894 and 1899, Satsuma orange trees were virtually wiped out in the Gulf States. Thousands of acres of Satsuma orange trees were wiped out in Alabama, Texas, and Louisiana in the hard freeze of 1916; thus the citrus production of the United States began to shift from Florida to California.

Citrus is marketed throughout the world as a beneficial health fruit that contains Vitamin C and numerous other vitamins and minerals in orange and citrus products lime marmalade, fresh fruit, and frozen and hot-pack citrus juice concentrates.

Learn about acacia honey and acacia fiber at the Acacia Plant site.

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