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.
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.