Navel Orange Trees are All Clones of Each Other

Today I found out navel orange trees are all perfect clones of one another and all originate from a single tree in Brazil.

In 1820, a mutation occurred in a group of sweet orange trees growing on the grounds of a monastery in Bahia, Brazil. The mutation created a seedless orange that was much sweeter than the original citrus fruit. In addition, the new species had an underdeveloped twin orange growing within the same skin of each fully developed orange. From the outside, this growth looked like a human belly button, which resulted in the naming of the newly grown citrus variety: navel oranges.

Since navel oranges are seedless, farmers couldn’t simply grow another tree from the seeds to get more of the fruit. The only way to grow more navel oranges is to amputate a blossoming bud from an existing navel orange tree and unite it with another compatible fruit tree’s trunk or root. This process is called grafting and is only successful if the grafted fruit trees are compatible with one another. Since navel oranges belong to the same species as grapefruits, lemons, and limes, they can be grafted with any of these.

Two years after the discovery of the navel orange tree, Brazil sent a dozen navel orange seedlings to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington DC. Five years later, a woman named Eliza Tibbets planted one of these seedlings at her home in Riverside, California and it started producing fruit. Mrs. Tibbets success growing this fruit spread, and other California orange growers decided to take buds from her tree to grow as well, since the California climate proved perfect for navel oranges. This variety of navel orange became known as the Riverside Orange, but its name was later changed to the Washington Navel Orange and is the most popular type of navel orange in the world.

Bonus Facts:

  • The color orange was actually named after the orange fruit, not the other way around, as one might expect.  To read more on this, go here: The Color Orange was Named After the Fruit
  • Orange is the world’s third favorite flavor (number one and two belong to chocolate and vanilla).
  • An navel orange tree can grow 30 feet tall and live for well over 100 years (the exact number isn’t known yet because the variety is relatively young and, for instance, one of Eliza Tibbets’ original navel orange trees is still growing and producing fruit today).
  • There is an orange tree in Europe called “Constable” that is estimated to be almost 500 years old.
  • Orange trees will not bear quality fruit until the third growing season.
  • The majority of people peel an orange to get at the juicy fruit on the inside. However, even though the peel of an orange lacks the sweet juiciness of the actual orange, it is edible and nutritious. The peel is primarily eaten in environments with limited resources and that require minimal waste to be generated, like on submarines. The peel is also a source of nutritional value, particularly containing vitamin C and fiber. Word to the wise: if you’re planning to eat the peel of an orange, stick to the organically grown or processed oranges that haven’t been treated with chemical pesticides and herbicides.
  • If you choose not to eat the peel of an orange, there are a variety of other ways to use it including repelling the annoying slug and garden pests, producing orange oil for the purpose of adding flavor to food and drinks and adding fragrance to perfumes and aromatherapy.
  • When choosing an orange of ample ripeness to eat, skin color is not a good indicator.  Make sure the orange is heavy for its size and has a good fresh odor and isn’t too squishy, nor too firm.
  • In 1848, thousands of people rushed to California after gold was found. This time is known as the California Gold Rush.  The “other” California Gold Rush occurred in 1882 when California was home for over 500,000 growing citrus trees.  It was during this time that California helped establish the citrus industry.
  • The sweet orange is the most commonly grown fruit tree in the world and accounts for approximately 70% of the world’s citrus production.
  • Brazil leads the world in orange growth and production. Due to their ideal climates, Florida and California are the leading growers of oranges in the United States and both states sell the majority of their oranges in the U.S.
  • Eighty-five percent of the world’s orange juice is produced between Brazil and Florida. Although the entire world benefits from Brazil’s production since they export 99% of their product, Florida mostly fulfills the domestic demand in the United States. To reduce storage and transportation costs and to reduce the volume used, orange juice is traded internationally in the form of frozen concentrate.
  • During re-greening, ripe oranges might change from orange back to green. Even though it may look strange, re-greening does not affect nutritional quality or taste. It only affects the outer color of the orange.
  • More orange trees are killed per year by lightening than any disease.
  • There is no single English word that rhymes with orange.  There are however half rhymes such as “hing”, “syringe”, “sporange”, etc.  There are also proper nouns that come very close to being a perfect rhyme with it, such as “Blorenge”, which is a mountain in Wales, and “Gorringe”, which is the last name of the US Naval Commander who discovered and named Gorringe Ridge in 1875.
  • Each year, the United States grows over 25 billion oranges. With that many oranges, every American can eat approximately 83 oranges every year.
  • Oranges must ripen while they are on the trees. No man-made process to date can artificially ripen oranges, so they must be ripe at the time of harvesting.
  • Everyone knows oranges are, well, orange. When a consumer sees a green orange, their first, and perhaps their only, thought is that the orange is not ripe. However, some oranges, even after they ripen, maintain some yellow or green spots. These colored spots are not indications of an unripe fruit, but they are still unattractive to consumers looking for their ideal orange. As a result, oranges exhibiting colors of yellow or green after they mature, go through a process called degreening, which turns the outer skin of the orange its ideal orange color so consumers will purchase them.
  • Like navel oranges, Cavendish bananas (the kind you find in most grocery stores today) are also all perfect clones of one another.  You can read more on this here: Commercial Banana Plants are All Perfect Clones of One Another  
  • Interestingly, the Cavendish banana was not the world’s most popular banana until the 1960s.  In fact, it was relatively unknown among the masses and even after the 1960s the former world’s most popular banana, the Gros Michel or “Big Mike”, was generally preferred by businesses and consumers alike.  The Gros Michel was preferred by businesses due to being easier to ship and they stored longer before spoiling than the Cavendish.  Consumers also liked them better for the increase in storage time as well as the fact that they are larger and sweeter and generally considered to taste better. The latter being one of the reasons it was the world’s most popular banana in the first place.  Unfortunately, the world was forced to switch bananas in the middle of the 20th century.  So what happened to force this switch?  What happened was a banana apocalypse on a global scale.  You see, the drawback of the fact that within each variety of banana nearly all the bananas are clones of one another is what will kill or harm one banana plant will do the same to all other banana plants of the same variety.  Enter the Panama disease which caused the near extinction of the Gros Michel Banana within a few year span.   Panama disease is a type of fungus that lives in the soil and to which fungicides do not work against, which is why it is such a threat.  There are a variety of strains of this fungus out there, one of which wiped out the Gros Michel Banana as a commercial product.
  • Because all Navel Oranges are clones of one another, they are highly susceptible to all being wiped out on a global scale by various diseases, similar to what happened to the Gross Michael banana.
  • Unfortunately, a new strain of the Panama disease, that the Cavendish banana is not resistant to, sprung up in 1992 and threatens the world’s most popular banana once again.  This time however, there has not yet been found a similar substitute banana among the other 1000 or so varieties out there.  Most varieties of banana contain giant hard seeds throughout the soft fleshy inside and generally taste nothing like the bananas we are used to eating.  A second banana apocalypse, if it happens soon before a new variety can either be genetically engineered or carefully bred, will likely see the end of the fruit as a popular commercial product.  Since this new strain of Panama disease has showed up, it has already wiped out plantations in Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and Taiwan and is currently spreading through Southeast Asia.  It is also thought that it is only a matter of time before it spreads through Africa and Latin America, which would be the death knell for the Cavendish as a commercial product.
  • Bananas are naturally radioactive, read more on this here: The Radioactive Banana
  • Bananas do not grow on trees.  Rather, they grow from a root structure that produces an above ground stem.  The plant is specifically classified as an arborescent (tree-like) perennial herb; in fact, it is the largest herbaceous flowering plant.
  • Just as interesting as the banana plant being an herb is that the banana itself is a berry.
  • The round dark center on the one end of Cavendish bananas is not a seed, but rather the vestige of what would be the fruit’s reproductive core, if it had one.
  • Although no longer viable for mass cultivation, the Gros Michel still grows in certain areas of the world that has not been touched by the particular strain of Panama disease that wiped it out as a commercial product.  For similar reasons, the Cavendish is not likely to ever be completely wiped out, though it is thought it will eventually go the way of the Gros Michel and eventually no longer be commercially available.
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