The Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree

Just came back from a trip to Southern California, Riverside, to visit my daughter and granddaughter. Looking through the areas of interest in the city I came across what is called the Parent Navel Orange Historical Park, located on Magnolia and Arlington Ave. We’ll, when it comes to unusual or noted items of horticulture interest I am all over it.

Located at a very busy intersection, behind a iron fence are three citrus trees. Two oranges and a grapefruit. The one orange tree, called “The Parent Navel Orange”, changed the world.
The Parent Navel Trees have been attributed as the foundation of Riverside’s and Californias successful citrus industry. The two navel trees originated from Brazil’s Bahia Province and was given to Eliza Tibbets via William Saunders, a horticulturist at the Department of Agriculture in 1873. Saunders hoped the foreign trees would thrive in Riverside, and indeed they did. The oranges produced by the parent navel trees were not only sweet tasting, but were seedless as well. Rumors about the seedless oranges, later named “Riverside Navel,” spread amongst the residents of the area and created interest toward the unique trees. An increase in demand for the trees resulted in Eliza Tibbets selling budstock for $5 a bud, an extraordinary amount for that time.
The trees not only made Tibbets famous, it also established Riverside and California, as a principle orange-growing center. In 1903, the Historical Society of Riverside transplanted one of the parent navel orange trees to the Mission Inn. During his tour of the city, President Theodore Roosevelt
dedicated the tree while a crowd looks on. Unfortunately, the tree did not survive and died in 1921. However, the second parent tree, located on the corner of Arlington and Magnolia Avenue, continues bloom to this date. The orange was later named “Washington Navel” after our first president.

The grapefruit that is located in the fenced area is the first “Marsh Grapefruit”, which is the most popular grapefruit around.

What I find interesting is that every Washington navel orange tree in the world descends from this tree.
What started out as an experiment to see if the tree would grow in the U.S. resulted in California becoming the citrus capitol of the west coast, and inspiring people from all over the world to move to the paradise that was Southern California at the turn of the century.

Here these trees sit, ignored by most, surrounded by a city, and state, that grew because of these trees. The immense fields of citrus that once covered Southern California are long gone.

My granddaughter poses in front of “The Tree”.


About Trey Pitsenberger

Trey is a nurseryman, author, and speaker.

29. November 2005 by Trey Pitsenberger
Categories: | 15 comments

Comments (15)

  1. I come from Redlands where Mrs. Morey must have been friends with Mrs. Tibbets (or at least got one sapling). She painstakingly developed a nursery of trees and then farmers “discovered” that oranges could withstand the trip back east. Eureka! Buy those trees! Mr & Mrs Morey built their dream house (the Morey Mansion in Redlands is remarkable for its features – Mr Morey was a ship building engineer). That’s what made Redlands the Citrus capital of the world for decades. I now live and work in Morocco where I see the conflagration of Valencia, Blood, Sevilla, and, of course, Navel Oranges! Glad you were able to see the trees. I tried many a time to find them, but they were set off somewhere that lacked proper signage. They didn’t have the proper respect that they have today, it seems!

  2. Mike, horticultural monuments rarely receive the attention they deserve. Luther Burbank’s house in Santa Rosa is one such place as well as the navel orange. I could spend hours touring Luther’s house as he developed so many of the fruits and vegetable we eat today. He was known as the Plant Wizard and was considered the equal to Ford or Edison. There is a great picture of the three men sitting at Luther’s front door. They came to visit him!

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  5. JUST GOT HOME FROM PICKING NAVEL ORANGES TODAY IN A SMALL GROVE . I SPENT ABOUT 5 HOURS IN THE ORANGE GROVE TODAY IN SAN BERNARDINO CALIFORNIA. WHILE THERE, I PICKED ORANGES AND SMELT THE FRAGERENT ORANGE BLOOMS.
    THE WEATHER WAS PERFECT AND THE FRUIT IS OUTSTANDING. I ENCOURAGE EVERYONE TO TAKE THE TIME AND SPEND A FEW HOURS IN A CITRUS GROVE.

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  7. How beautiful is this tree!? I love that it is so protected and just full of oranges. I’ve never been to this part of Cali, but would like to visit. I sure do love fresh fruit.
    -Sylvia

  8. Loved your pics about The Parent Washington Navel Orange Tree. What a piece of History! Thank you for having this online for others like me to enjoy!

  9. my girlfriend has a grape fruit plantation in their backyard and we always taste some of the harvest.*::

  10. we always use grapefruit on our dessert and this is a fruit that is full of antioxidants too.`~’

  11. do you know of any parent trees associated with redlands and where i can purchase one? i would like to plant one and maybe a grapefruit tree also. tell me, is now a good time to plant them, oct 2010?

  12. Terra,

    You would best off checking with a local garden center in your area. Around here we plant citrus in spring.

  13. I grew up in Riverside and used to attend school a couple blocks up the road from those trees. I caught the city bus each day right across the street from them.  I haven’t thought about those trees in a long time, but its a  welcome memory and its good to see that some folks still at least pay them some attention.  Thanks for the blog.

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