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Planet Earth Under Threat

The Birth of the Big Orange

  • Sheena Duncan
  • 13 Aug 07, 03:57 PM

It's funny where programme ideas come from. Whilst researching the life and times of Sir Percy Fitzpatrick, the author of "Jock of the Bushveld", for a half hour feature programme I was making called "Percy and Jock: One Man and His Dog", I discovered that amongst his many talents, Fitzpatrick had played a key role in the development of the citrus industry in South Africa. More interestingly, I discovered that in 1922 he'd been presented by a very important tree stump from California. I was started to trace back the story of this tree to find out why it was so important - it was referred to as the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree..and on Sunday 19th August at 2.45pm you can listen to the fascinating and charming history of "The Birth of the Big Orange".

The Washington Navel orange tree is a variety of orange that arrived in the United States from Brazil in the late 1800s. An innocuous enough arrival of some cuttings sent to a groundsman in the United States Department of Agriculture in Washington DC and their eventual despatch to the newly forming colony of Riverside in California in 1873 was to kick off the citrus industry in Southern California and lead to the economic and cultural development of that whole region. The heyday of the navel orange in the Riverside area was to last for some 60 years. The navel orange is big and juicy and more importantly is a seedless orange with the curious little miniature orange sitting at the blossom end within the orange itself - an orange within an orange.

Just one parent tree survives today of the three cuttings that initially arrived in California. Though little remains of the navel orange industry in Riverside today, "Mother Navel" stands protected in a little park in the city, and even though this tree is 134 years old it is still producing fruit to this day. Local historians and plant pathologists from the University of California, Riverside reveal in the programme just what makes this parent orange tree so special and how possibly every Washington Navel orange in the world is descended from it.

Listen again to the programme after its broadcast on the 19th August.

The whole juicy story of the Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree can be found on a slideshow on this UN Ecoport website.

Comments  Post your comment

Thank you this was a delightful program. I have forwarded the link to my cousin whose father was a citrus grower in Orange County. He sold his land eventually for housing.

I will try to visit the parent tree on a future trip to CA.

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