The Navel Orange in California by Ella M. Sexton
Who has not enjoyed a juicy navel orange, while wondering at its
peculiar shape and lack of troublesome seeds? Yet few people know that
this particular variety has brought millions of dollars into our state
and made orange growing our third greatest industry.
Read this story of the seedless orange, this "golden apple of
California," which was first cultivated by Luther Tibbets, of
Riverside, and learn how Southern California has profited by its navel
Nearly thirty years ago Mr. Tibbets came from New York to this state
and took up free government land near what is now the beautiful city
of Riverside. He was one of the half-dozen pioneer fruit-growers
of that region, and had noticed at the San Gabriel Mission how well
orange trees grew there. His wife and daughter waited in Washington,
D.C., until a home should be ready here for them, and they often sent
Mr. Tibbets plants and seeds from the Department of Agriculture. To
this Department and its gardens in Washington, many curious plants
are forwarded from other countries for growing and experiment in the
United States. New kinds of grain or fruits are carefully cultivated
and watched by the Department, and from it farmers can always get
seeds or cuttings to try on their own farms.
Mrs. Tibbets often visited the Department gardens, and in 1873 she
wrote to her husband that she could get him some fine orange trees if
he would promise the government to take great care of them and to keep
them apart from other trees till they fruited. Of course he agreed to
give them special attention, and therefore that December he received
three small, rooted orange trees. A cow chewed up one of these, but
for five years the others were watched and tended. Then sweet white
blossoms appeared on each little tree, and afterwards two oranges,
like hard green bullets at first. Finally, in January, 1879, Mr.
Tibbets picked four large, well-flavored, golden oranges, the first
seedless ones ever grown outside of Brazil.
From the hot swamps of the tropical country at Bahia the United States
Consul had sent six cuttings of this peculiar orange to be planted
in the Washington gardens. All died but the two at Riverside. In 1880
they bore half a bushel of fruit, and the new seedless oranges were
talked of throughout Southern California. The other orange growers
had been cultivating "seedlings," trees which bore smaller fruit, with
many bitter seeds and a thick skin. Many of these growers now cut back
their seedlings to bare limbs, and grafted the new orange on these
branches. This is called "budding," and is done by cutting off a thin
slip of bark with a tiny folded-up leaf-bud on it, inserting the graft
in the branch to be budded and securing it there with wax to keep the
air out. The little bud drinks in sap from the tree stem, and grows
and blossoms true to its own mother tree.
There were few orange groves then, but soon nearly all were budded
to the new kind, seventy-five acres being so changed on the Baldwin
Ranch; and when these trees began to bear, some five years afterwards,
people were much excited over the seedless fruit.
AN ORANGE TREE WITH
FRUIT AND BLOSSOMS.
Such high prices were paid for these oranges at first, that orange
growing boomed all over Southern California. People thought their
fortunes were made when they set out a few acres of small budded trees
they had paid a dollar or more apiece for. Whole towns sprang up in
dry treeless valleys where only cattle and sheep had pastured,
and land worth only twenty-five dollars an acre before the orange
excitement, sold quickly for eight hundred and a thousand when planted
with trees. The towns of Pomona, Redlands, Monrovia, and others in
the orange localities were unknown before 1885, and grew to several
thousand population in a few years. Everybody talked of the great
profit in orange growing, and people who had nurseries of young trees
grown from navel buds made fortunes.
At this day thousands of acres of seedless oranges are in full bearing
and no one buys the old kinds. Hundreds of car-loads of the seedlings
are not even picked, and ninety per cent of the eighteen thousand
car-loads which make the season's orange crop are navel oranges. Over
forty-five millions of dollars are now invested in the growing and
marketing of this remarkable fruit.
At Riverside, the home of the orange, the two original Washington
navel trees still stand. Mr. Tibbets guarded them for years, had them
fenced with high latticework, and seldom allowed any one to touch
them. He refused ten thousand dollars for them, since for months he
sold hundreds of dollars' worth of buds from these parent trees. These
two trees and their large family have caused thousands of people to
come to the state, and have built up Southern California wonderfully.