The orange, like many other of California's most valuable products, was brought into the country by the patient, far-seeing padres. Orange, lemon, and citron, those three gay cousins of royal blood, traveled together, and soon were to be found in many of the mission gardens. The most extensive of that early planting was an orchard at San Gabriel, set out by Padre Sanchez in 1804. In the height of its prosperity, this mission is recorded as having two thousand three hundred and thirty-three fruit trees, a large proportion of which were orange trees. San Fernando had sixteen hundred trees. San Diego had its orange orchard: how many trees is not recorded, but its olive grove numbered five hundred and seventeen flourishing trees. Santa Inez had nearly a thousand trees. As early as 1800 Santa Barbara and San Buenaventura also had valuable orchards.

Outside the missions the first orange trees in any number were planted in 1834, the famous Wolfskill grove in 1841. By 1862 there were about twenty-five thousand trees of this variety in the state, and two thirds of these belonged to Wolfskill, of Los Angeles. A little later several large orchards were planted in the region around the Mission San Gabriel. In Riverside, often called the mother of orange culture in the state, the first seeds were planted in 1870, the first trees from these seeds in 1873, and from that period is dated the beginning of extensive planting. This was largely the work of colonists. About the time the orchards came into bearing, the Southern Pacific and the Santa Fe Overland were completed, so that an Eastern market was gained for the fruit, with the result that the new industry fairly bounded forward. So much was sometimes made from an acre of trees that it seemed as though people could not get land and plant fast enough. Occasionally an income was reported of three thousand dollars from an acre, and eight hundred to one thousand dollars per acre was not an uncommon crop.

Although at this time there were a few orange trees in the middle and northern parts of the state, for many years it was supposed that only the southern country could raise this fruit suitable for the market, but to-day people know better. Excellent oranges are grown as far north as Shasta, and Butte County, which leads in the northern orange culture, has a number of large and valuable orchards. From Tulare County and other parts of the valley of the San Joaquin, choice fruit is being shipped to the markets of the East. From San Diego all the way up the state one may find trees of the citrus family flourishing; still, whether north or south, in planting an orange orchard, the greatest care has to be taken in the choice of location. Jack Frost is the enemy to be avoided, and generally in any strip of country the lower lands are the ones he visits first. So the highlands are preferred, and even here the currents of air must be studied. A strong, uninterrupted, downward sweep of air from the snowcovered mountains will often, at night, drive away the needed warmth gathered during the day, so that land protected by some mountain spur which makes an eddy in the current is the best for this heat-loving fruit.

There are several popular varieties of the orange. The Valencia late is being planted by many in preference to others because, besides being a fine fruit, it keeps well, ripening when the days begin to be long and hot, and is therefore doubly welcome. The sweet orange from the Mediterranean country, and the St. Michael, with its paper rind, are also favorites, as are the delicious little Mandarin and Tangerine varieties, with their thin skin and high flavor; but the king of them all is the Washington navel, which has gained for the state its high position as an orange-raising territory. This is not a new variety, though many may believe it so. A book published in Rome over three hundred years ago gives an interesting description and pictures of this and other kinds of oranges and the way they should be raised. The title of this rare old volume is "Hesperides, or about the Golden Apples, their Culture and Use." Among its many fine illustrations is one of Hercules receiving the golden apples. Another shows the bringing of the fruit to Italy by a body of nymphs and goddesses in Neptune's car. Mr. Charles F. Lummis has translated portions of the book in the California magazine Out West.

On its travels the navel orange finally reached Bahia, Brazil, and there, sometime during the Civil War in the United States, a lady who, it is said, was the wife of the American consul, discovered the deliciousness of this fruit. So pleased was she that she determined to share her enjoyment with others; so upon her return to her own country, she described this orange to Mr. Saunders, head of the government's experimental farm at Washington. He became interested in the subject, sent to Bahia, and had twelve navel trees propagated by budding. These were shipped to Washington, where they arrived safely, and were placed in the orangery there. They all grew, and from them a large number of trees were budded.

Still they had not reached California. Bringing them to the Pacific coast was also the work of a woman. Mrs. Tibbetts, wife of a fruit grower of Riverside, was visiting in Washington and to her Mr. Saunders presented two navel orange trees, which she brought home with her. They were planted beside her doorstep in Riverside. The trees grew rapidly, and when they bore fruit it did not take the California orange growers long to discover that here they had a treasure of more value than the largest nugget of gold ever found in the state.

It was at a citrus fair in Riverside in 1879 that this golden king first appeared before the world. Then from all over southern California came orange men to get buds from these trees. Back home they went with the precious bits of life. Acres of seedling oranges were quickly shorn of their green crowns. Cut, cut, went knife and shears till only the stock was left, and then into a carefully made slit in the bark was placed the navel bud. It soon sprouted, and everywhere one could see the stranger growing sturdily on its adopted stem. Thousands of buds were sold from the two parent trees until there were hundreds of thousands of their beautiful children growing all over the state, giving golden harvests.
Copyright © 2006-21 Claud "Sonny" Rouch, all rights reserved. Website by OACYS Technology. Cover photo by Roberts Engineering.