Through commercial trade routes the sweet orange reached Europe in the 12 and 13th centuries. Aristocrats in France built special greenhouses called orangeries in order to grow them in the colder climate. In 1475, the first written distinction between the sour orange and sweet orange was recorded. Christopher Columbus took oranges to the New World in “overseas survival kits” to combat scurvy. The seeds were planted in Haiti in 1493 and flourished in the climate. Spanish settlers then took seeds to Florida where the fruit thrived as well.It’s estimated that over 2 million European sailors between the 16th and 19th centuries died of scurvy, carrying oranges on board meant that Spanish and Portuguese sailors could travel farther, and longer.
Spanish missionaries crossed America to Arizona and California, planting oranges when they arrived in the 18th century. The first orange grove was planted at the San Gabriel mission in 1804 in California. When the 1849 gold rush hit California, there was a big demand for oranges, it was well known that citrus prevented scurvy by this time. William Wolfskill planted the first commercial orange orchard near present day Los Angeles, and the business flourished due to the demand from the miners arriving. Wolfskill grew hundreds of orange and lemon seedlings, which he secured from the San Gabriel Mission.
The navel orange, a sweet, seedless mutation from Brazil was acquired by the US Dept of Agriculture and sent a few starter trees to Eliza Tibbets to see if they would grow in Riverside, California in 1873. The navel orange was remarkably popular; large, sweet golden globes outshined other varieties, and it became the cornerstone to the commercial citrus industry in California. Because the navel orange has no way to reproduce naturally, growers must graft bud sports to another tree’s trunk or roots, a process that creates a clone of the original. Nearly all the navel orange trees grown in California are descendants of Tibets’ original tree. From the beginning of the 1900s, citrus became one of California’s largest industries; second only to oil. The railroad made it possible for the fruit to be sold thousands of miles away to the big eastern markets ofNew Orleans, Chicago and New York.