'Heirloom' oranges or other citrus.

greyghost61(8b SoWeGa)January 20, 2012

I was reading William Bartram's writings the other day and he was talking about "wild oranges" and "indian orange gorves" throughout north Florida and also orange groves in south Georgia. For those of you who do not know who William Bartram was, he was an english naturalist who traveled the southeast just before and during the American Revolution. He was the first to describe many native plants and animals in Georgia and Florida. Another interesting plant he describes was the papaya, I thought he was first talking about the paw paw, but he discribes a true papaya growing wild in north Florida.

I realize that the oranges were "feral" so to speak having been brought there by the spanish. I would be interested if anyone has any info on the types of oranges these might have been. The time period of his travels was during the "mini iceage" that lead to the delaware river freezing over and generally colder temperatures than we have now. Here is a link to some of his writings for those interested http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/bartram/bartram.html

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Honestly what was there 250 years ago is pretty irrelevant. Citrus, in a tropical or subtropical climate will survive with no help from us; and in a good year will produce fruit. I don't really understand what that has to do with us in the present. Over some centuries, since we discovered citrus, we have selected a few that we like and have some commercial significance; if you want to grow some obscure species just to prove you can do it, good for you; but it is not likely that anyone will long remember, or truly care that you did. I am an old guy and I long ago gave up idealism in favor of what actually works.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2012 at 8:33PM
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greyghost61(8b SoWeGa)

As someone who has farmed most his life I can state heirloom varieties are very important. Various traits have been bred out of most modern varieties to create varieties that are easier to mass produce, or for shelf life etc...But that is neither here nor there, I was just curious if anyone knew anthing about them.

By the logic used to respond I would assume that the efforts to bring back the american chestnut is a waste of time.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 1:45PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

greyghost...well, you have me hooked! I lived for many years along the coast of SC, about halfway between Charleston and Savannah. As a horticulturist, I am familiar with Bartram, though not as much as I could be.

I thank you for re-introducing me to this great work. I'm going to read it with enjoyment. All the more so, since I am so familiar with some of the locations and native plants of the area. I had to laugh, though. It appears that Bartram lived through a damned hurricane on his ventures! Welcome to the Sea Islands.

My former community (Beaufort, SC) was in the heart of the 'Sea Islands' which had once been home to vast plantations of cotton, indigo, and rice. Many of these old plantation properties still exist in the form of hunting and fishing playgrounds for the wealthy, golf courses, and private developments. In my work, I became familiar with many of these properties and their histories. I spent many hours, over the years, prowling in old gardens and ancient forests in pursuit of some signs of the earliest groves.

Hundreds of years ago, some sort of sweet oranges were grown on these plantations. I found some very interesting history regarding the citrus industry in N. America that I have attached. If you wade down through the article, you'll see that the Spanish brought seeds to St. Augustine in the late 1500s. There is also documentation of their introduction to my own old stomping grounds, St. Helena Island!

Actually, the article contains much more information than merely the introduction of citrus in this country. Be sure to read all of it, if you haven't already seen it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Click here

    Bookmark   January 23, 2012 at 2:29PM
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What was growing here long ago is far from irrelevant. We have a local variety of orange, It was grown on a ranch along the Brazos River 25 miles S. of Houston since before the civil war. A few years back, Galveston County citrus growers found out about it and it was dubbed the Republic Of Texas orange. It is one of the sweetest that can be grown on the Upper Texas Coast and one of the most cold hardy of the round oranges. It is easily grown from seed and cuttings and is compatable with most rootstocks.

I laugh when some body tells me the Republic of Texas isn't any good, and go on to tout blood oranges that freeze dead in the last two winters we have had. The Republic of Texas orange survived when the coldest winter in recorded history killed "every cow in Brazoria County" in the 1890's. No, its not irrelevant to seek out and grow fine trees like these.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 12:34AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

greyghost....if you should return and see this, would you mind emailing me directly (via 'my page')?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2012 at 1:27PM
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On an archaeological survey of the Big Cypress Swamp, with a can of sardines and some Triscuits in a back pack for lunch, a sour orange tree would often be encountered in dark, cool hardwood hammocks. They were very refreshing. I thought the native Americans must have appreciated them, or at least encouraged them.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2012 at 10:13PM
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I'm not into growing oranges like you are, being from Central MN where winter would just do them in... But for years I've been tired of the pithy, flaccid, and non-juicy oranges that are the general fare from our grocery stores. It's like eating "flavored leather", but some are all right if they are juicy enough inside, although they appear to be produced just to make them big, easy to peel, and seedless.

A year ago however, I saw oranges that we're a little more spendy come available about the first week in February. They were called "Heirloom " oranges (from California) and they were fantastic! They were juicy, firm skinned, and sharp flavored like I remembered when I was a kid, when all oranges had seeds. (although these are seedless). I kept on buying them until the season was over, and hadn't had a great orange since today, when the same brand came available here again this year.

This should keep me happy for now, but my questions to all of you citrus fans is, "Can you tell me what makes these oranges so special, where are more sources of similar oranges, how can I get them in our part of the world without freezing, and what ever happened to the tasty seed oranges I had when I was a kid?"

I wish you all well...
Thanks, Swede

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 3:50PM
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hoosierquilt USDA 10A Sunset 23 Vista CA(10b Sunset 23)

John, truly you must be jesting? Your much beloved Improved Meyer lemons are heirlooms! The Meyer lemon has one of the most interesting histories of all the citrus out there, I think. From Wikipedia: "Citrus x meyeri, the Meyer lemon, is a citrus fruit native to China thought to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or common orange. It was introduced to the United States in 1908 as S.P.I. #23028 by the agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, an employee of the United States Department of Agriculture who collected a sample of the plant on a trip to China."

It was much loved during the beginning of the twentieth century, peaking in popularity around WWII. Then, we nearly lost this wonderful variety permanently, as it was found that a majority of the Meyer lemon trees being cloned were symptomless carriers of the Citrus tristeza virus, a virus which had killed millions of citrus trees all over the world and rendered other millions useless for production. It nearly wiped out the US Citrus crops. Most of the Meyer lemon trees in the United States at that time were destroyed to save all the other citrus trees here in the United States. About 10 years later, in the 50's, a virus-free Meyer lemon tree was found at Four Winds Growers by Don Dillon, the owner.

The rest is history. Thanks to Don, we now have the lovely Improved Meyer lemon to enjoy, and it is enjoying a new renaissance thanks to folks like Martha Stewart and influential gourmet chefs. This 'heirloom' lemon had has a mind-blowing impact on so many aspects of the citrus industry - from increasing awareness of citrus pests and how they can significantly impact a multi-billion dollar agricultural industry, thus improving screening protocols and techniques, to building a wonderful mail order citrus business for Don with his Four Winds company, to perhaps creating a very nice Central American Improved Meyer Lemon business. For you :-)

Heirloom fruits are important. Not to be forgotten, and to be researched for their influence on our current varieties as well as perhaps reintroduced as new varieties again, or as cross breeding options to improve our current favorites. What is working for you right now is due to a little heirloom lemon that was originally thought of as just a garden ornament, but has proven to be one of the most influential citrus varieties ever.

Patty S.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2012 at 5:34PM
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I don't know if this page is still active, but i live in central fl and own a small pineapple orange tree that i recently discovered was an heirloom variety, after some research i have found that Hamlin and ambersweet are also heirloom varietys, Hamlin is used in commercial and homegrowing situations, where i live and i can vouge that pineapple is a delicious sweet orange even if it is the least cold hardy. I am currently trying to grow some pineapple oranges from seed, will keep anyone updated if you email me also open to trading. hope this helps!

    Bookmark   January 7, 2013 at 8:16PM
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Heirloom has some pretty clear definitions when it comes to vegetables : old breed, open pollinated, true breeding, etc.

What exactly is a heirloom orange? Citrus are generally propagated by grafting, so my Washington Navel should be genetically identical to the tree it's cuttings were taken from, and that tree should be identical to its "parent".

In this case, does "heirloom" just mean "not currently popular?"

    Bookmark   January 8, 2013 at 12:33PM
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